Banharn dashes a minister's hopes
Sonthaya Kunplome was clearly not totally happy when he became culture minister after he completed his five-year political ban.The culture portfolio was not the Cabinet seat Sonthaya wanted when his Palang Chon Party joined the Yingluck government. Instead, he sought and is still seeking the post of tourism and sports minister.
Sonthaya was tourism and sports minister until he was listed among the 111 Thai Rak Thai executives placed under the five-year political ban following the dissolution of the party.
He was still under the ban when the Yingluck Government was formed, so he sent his wife Sukumol Kunplome, his proxy, to become a Cabinet member. She however agreed to accept the Culture Ministry portfolio, which is a small one compared to the Tourism and Sports Ministry.
Adding to Sonthaya's woes, former prime minister Banharn Silapa-archa, the de facto leader of the Chart Thai Pattana Party and the original holder of the Sports Ministry quota, would not let the ministry go.
As a result, when Sonthaya completed his political ban and became the culture minister replacing Sukumol, he became uncomfortable in the position.
This apparently prompted Sonthaya to come up with a proposal to merge the Culture Ministry with the Tourism and Sports Ministry.
Sonthaya proposed the idea as part of his bureaucratic reform of the Culture Ministry. He reasoned that the two ministries should be merged because the cultural and tourism activities of the government should go together. Sonthaya said a culture and tourism ministry should be set up to minimise redundancies in the work of the two ministries.
As expected, the proposal met with strong opposition from Chart Thai Pattana, which owns holds the Tourism and Sports Ministry quota. Banharn had Chart Thai Pattana spokesman Watchara Kannikar, also spokesman for the Tourism and Sports Ministry, come out to oppose the proposal.
"A merger of ministries can happen if a ministry has problems in its operations. But now, the Tourism and Sports Ministry has not caused damage to the tourism and sports activities. Instead, tourism and sports activities have prospered," Watchara said.
"I understand well that the culture minister still has good will towards the sports programmes, but the two ministries should cooperate on their work rather than on the administrative structure."
The opposition prompted Sonthaya to shelve the merger idea.
But since Tourism and Sports Minister Chumpol Silapa-archa was rushed to hospital with coronary artery disease, Sonthaya seems to have rekindled his hopes.
It was the second time that Chumpol had suffered from the disease, so it was possible he would be hit with it again and it is not certain when he'll fully recover and be ready to resume work.
As a result, Banharn has hurried to call a meeting of Chart Thai Pattana to select a replacement for Chumpol's position.
Hopeful Sonthaya took the chance to campaign for the position by visiting the "big boss" over the long New Year holidays to discuss the issue.
But will Banharn agree to give the position to Palang Chon?
It is very unlikely that Banharn will let go of the Tourism and Sports portfolio. Banharn has made it clear since his party joined the Pheu Thai-led coalition that he would never give the Agriculture Ministry or the Tourism and Sports Ministry to anyone.
And it is very unlikely that the big boss will replace Chart Thai Pattana (19 MPs) with the Bhum Jai Thai and Matchima group (with 27 and 7 MPs respectively).
This is because the big boss attaches great importance to Banharn and has entrusted him to help take care of the coalition from the beginning.
So, Banharn has been playing a role in supporting the political ambitions of the big boss - which can be seen in Banharn's pushing for charter amendments.
And no one should be surprised to see Banharn leading the campaign for reconciliation.
As a result, Sonthaya's chance of winning back the tourism and sports portfolio is very dim.