Amid alleged attempts to woo former MPs into a pro-Prayut party’s fold, government figures on Monday rejected suspicion that the Cabinet retreat in the Northeast early next week was part of the bid to build up a political alliance ahead of the next general election.
Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said the mobile Cabinet meeting in Ubon Ratchathani and Amnat Charoen was aimed at hearing opinions from local residents regarding development in their area.
“This has nothing to do with wooing politicians at all,” Wissanu insisted.
He also said that he had not heard of any move to mobilise local residents and politicians to welcome Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.
General Prayut, who also heads the ruling junta National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), on Monday refused to answer a Government House reporter’s question as to whether the upcoming Cabinet retreat was politically motivated.
The next mobile Cabinet meeting is scheduled for July 23-24 in Ubon Ratchathani and Amnat Charoen.
The meeting’s original venue was the northern provinces of Chiang Rai and Phayao, but the Cabinet decided to move it to the Northeast because local officials in Chiang Rai had worked hard for many days in the operation to rescue the 12 young footballers and their assistant coach trapped in the Tham Luang cave, according to PM’s Office Minister Kobsak Pootrakool.
Former Chiang Rai governor Narongsak Osottanakorn, who headed the rescue operation, has now become governor of neighbouring Phayao province.
Kobsak also denied any political motivation for the Cabinet to choose Ubon Ratchathani and Amnat Charoen as their mobile meeting’s venue.
He said the allegation linking the retreat with ongoing moves by the pro-Prayut Palang Pracharat Party was “untrue”.
A group of political veterans calling themselves “Sam Mit” (Three Friends) are touring the Northeast to meet with former MPs and local red-shirt leaders.
Critics and fellow politicians from established parties have accused the group of wooing ex-MPs to defect to Palang Pracharat, which plans to nominate Prayut as its prime ministerial candidate in the next general election.
Sam Mit has met with many red-shirt leaders in more than 10 northeastern provinces, according to former Nakhon Ratchasima MP Pirom Polwiset, who is the group’s secretary.
He said Sam Mit was aiming to help bring about reconciliation by reaching out to all political groups involved in the political conflict in the past, particularly the red shirts.
Pirom said supporters of the red-shirt umbrella group United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) formed the majority of people in the Northeast and his group wanted to share views with their leaders.
“We met with UDD leaders in more than 10 provinces and they gave us a warm welcome,” he said.
Sam Mit would hold a meeting with UDD people as soon as the NCPO gives permission, Pirom said, adding that he expected more than 500 red-shirt people to attend that meeting.
The former MP also dismissed an allegation that Sam Mit was wooing former MPs into its fold. “We just ask for their views and thoughts,” he said, adding that his group now has “almost 200 members”.
Core UDD leader Nattawut Saikua on Monday wished the defecting red-shirt leaders good luck.
“We are still friends but politically, we need to part ways now,” he said.
Nattawut added that voters often gave “painful lessons” to politicians who “turned their back on the democratic movement to join a dictatorship”.