SAYS THEIR APPOINTMENT AS GOVERNMENT ADVISERS WAS MADE TO GET POLITICAL GUIDANCE
PRIME MINISTER Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday downplayed the appointment of two politician brothers from the influential Kunplome family as government advisers.
Prayut said he needed politicians to advise him on political affairs but denied the appointment was for his own benefit.
The Cabinet yesterday appointed Phalang Chon Party leader Sontaya Kunplome as an adviser to the prime minister and his younger brother Ittipol an adviser to Tourism and Sports Minister Weerasak Kowsurat. The appointments were effective immediately.
The Kunplome family is influential in the eastern seaboard region, especially Chon Buri. In early 2000, Sontaya served as science and technology minister, and also tourism and sports minister. Ittipol is the former mayor of Pattaya City, a special administrative area in Chon Buri province.
The father of the Kunplome brothers, Somchai, formerly one of the most influential figures in the eastern seaboard, is serving jail time for masterminding the murder of a local politician.
Prayut yesterday said he needed some politicians around during the run-up to the election to help him better understand politics.
“I don’t mean to bring [Sontaya] here for my personal interest. I need someone who knows about politics to give me advice because I don’t know how politics works. But I do need to know something,” Prayut said after the weekly Cabinet meeting.
The move is seen to be politically significant. In the past month, Somkid Jatusripitak, the chief of the junta’s economic team, has allegedly been consolidating power by wooing former members of the House of Representatives from different political parties to join a new pro-junta party.
The party reportedly is to be led by Somkid’s close aides, Industry Minister Uttama Savanayana and Commerce Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong. It is likely to be launched in June and is expected to back Prayut to return as a head of the government after the next election which is expected to be held next year.
Phalang Chon adviser Charoon Ngampichet yesterday did not rule out the possibility of the party banding together with a pro-military party after the election.
“It’s a matter for the future. If the opportunity is really offered, we’ll have to consider whether it’s appropriate,” he said.
Charoon welcomed the presence of key Phalang Chon members in the government.
Uttama admitted yesterday that preparations were being made for a pro-Prayut party. He said he had discussed the matter with Somkid and Sontirat, although “no conclusions have been reached”.
“Personally I support General Prayut if he wants to continue working for the country. He is suitable for the job,” Uttama said.
In a related development, Prayut said yesterday that authorities are trying to determine whether a planned gathering of politicians from the Pheu Thai Party at a golf course in Nakhon Pathom constitutes a violation of the junta ban on political activities.
According to media reports, a group of key Pheu Thai figures plan to have lunch and play golf with politicians from the Sasomsap family, which owns the golf course.
Prayut, who also heads the ruling junta – the National Council for Peace and Order – said he did not know whether such a meeting constituted a violation of the NCPO order prohibiting political activities. “The authorities involved are looking into the matter,” he said.
The PM added that authorities were also looking into cases in which politicians visited local residents in different areas.. “We will see if the order was violated. The order states clearly what can be done and what cannot,” he said.
The four brothers from the Sasomsap family are well-known, influential politicians in Nakhon Pathom. Two of them became Cabinet members in previous administrations and lead a faction within the Pheu Thai Party.
Prayut and certain other figures from the ruling junta were photographed with the Sasomsap brothers after playing a round at the golf course last year.