October 12, 2012 00:00
By Avudh Panananda
Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung has definitely been enjoying a political windfall, although this begs the question of how long his good fortune will last.
Chalerm is presently the senior-most deputy prime minister, seen as the designated caretaker if Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra could not perform her duty.
Due to Pheu Thai Party infighting following the exit of Yongyuth Wichaidit, Yingluck has had no choice but to stall a Cabinet reshuffle until a power-sharing formula can be mapped out to appease all.
Since the formation of the Cabinet in 2011, Chalerm has been accorded seniority second only to Yongyuth.
At that time, no one anticipated the legal wrangling that would lead to Yongyuth’s downfall. Chalerm is where he is simply because the goddess of fortune has smiled on him, letting him fill Yongyuth’s shoes.
Yingluck could bypass Chalerm and pick other deputies, but in doing so, she would risk opening a can of worms as various factions in Pheu Thai might try to outshine the others in grabbing power.
In order to maintain the status quo pending her next move, Chalerm is a given – one with which Yingluck has to be content.
If Chalerm’s own track record is any indication, his luck will likely run out if and when Yingluck decides to shuffle her Cabinet.
Except for his loose alliance with a handful of MPs from the Northeast, Chalerm is a lone figure without a power base in the Pheu Thai Party.
He has relied on his talent for making politically expedient decisions and manipulating unfolding events to rein in friends and foes.
Back in the 1980s, Chalerm was a non-commissioned policeman who attached himself to the political ascendancy of powerful Army officer General Manoonkrit Roopkachorn.
Chalerm has no qualms about jumping ship if it will allow him to climb the political ladder. At one time, he even adopted the Democrat Party’s banner. He gained national prominence after joining the Chatichai Choonhavan government.
But several politicians, including Thaksin Shinawatra, voiced suspicion of his activities ahead of the 1990 coup to oust Chatichai.
After Thaksin became premier in 2001, he had a “four-eye” luncheon with Chalerm at Government House.
From that lunch until 2007, Chalerm virtually disappeared.
Before the late prime minister Samak Sundaravej assumed office, Chalerm admitted he had flown to London to patch up a deal with Thaksin. Under Samak’s leadership, Chalerm became interior minister, but Thaksin was reportedly unhappy with the Chalerm-Samak alliance.
When Somchai Wongsawat succeeded Samak, Chalerm was seen as being demoted to Public Health portfolio. For the past year, the Yingluck government has designated Chalerm as a watchdog to keep the opposition at bay.
Given the off-and-on ties between Chalerm and Thaksin, it is hard to imagine that Yingluck would choose him as a permanent choice to succeed her.
Chalerm might have sensed a shift in his fortunes, which would be a possible reason for his flying to Hong Kong last weekend.
Although he strongly denied having met with Thaksin, his camp spread the word that he might get the Interior portfolio in exchange for being shuffled out of his incumbent position.
Government House insiders said they would keep their fingers crossed on the chances of Chalerm getting his wish. But they seem certain his days as the number two in the Cabinet are numbered.