PRIME MINISTER Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday defended the right of four of his ministers to join the pro-junta Palang Pracharath Party, saying it was a “private matter” and they were able to do so as long as it did not affect their ability to do their public duty.
The dual role of the ministers both in the government and in Palang Pracharath, which will contest the upcoming election, has prompted concern over the competitive advantage the party may have.
Prayut insisted yesterday that would not be the case in his administration.
“The four ministers are not key decision-makers in the Cabinet. Decisions are made collectively by the whole Cabinet, which also has deputy prime ministers and a prime minister,” Prayut said.
The government would not give any particular group an advantage over the others, he said, stressing that it only worked to serve the public interest.
Following their controversial debuts, there have been calls for the four ministers to resign their ministerial posts. It would be the right thing to do, critics, say, even though the law does not require them to.
Prayut, who is also the junta chief, questioned yesterday whether the ministers were obliged by the law to relinquish their Cabinet positions and also questioned whether previous governments had done the same.
His comments came after four ministers – Industry Minister Uttama Savanayon, Commerce Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong, Minister attached to PM’s office Kobsak Pootrakul, and Science and Technology Minister Suvit Maesincee – appeared as executive members of the pro-junta Palang Pracharath Party.
Speculation is that the party has been formed specifically to support Prayut in the next election. The junta head, however, has divulged nothing about his political ambitions.
Meanwhile, Commerce Minister Sontirat, now also secretary-general of Palang Pracharath, said yesterday that Prayut had only advised those joining politics to be careful about their work.
Some observers have warned it would be inappropriate if the four ministers went on mobile Cabinet trips as these could help them gain popularity while other politicians remained under political restrictions. Sontirat said that PM Prayut had not mentioned such matters.
However, he did add that he was deliberating over whether or not to join mobile Cabinet trips.
Sontirat declined to say when he would step down from power amid pressure calling on him to do so. He said he had already made up his mind on the exact timing but asked that others respect his decision.
He did, however, admit that it was more difficult for him to keep working in his current position.
“To not work would be easier. To be in this situation and still have to work is difficult. I have to prove myself a lot,” Sontirat said.
But he was in good spirits, he said, as Prayut had made clear that the four ministers did not have to resign, even though they had taken up roles in a political party.