Speculation about a Cabinet reshuffle is likely just testing of public opinion about how former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra will deal with his political allies.
Thaksin is scheduled to visit Beijing on Thursday. He is expected to huddle with key allies before finalising his plans for the 111 Thai Rak Thai executives, some of whom may, or may not, join the Cabinet line-up.
Two curious incidents triggered wild speculation about ministerial change. During the Songkran holiday, Thaksin phoned in from Vientiane to Nong Khai and mentioned that Pheu Thai MP Jatuporn Promphan deserved to join the Cabinet.
About two weeks later, a friendly football match was organised with players from Pheu Thai and the 111. The match precedes the expiry later this month of the five-year political ban on the Thai Rak Thai executives.
Although June 1 is the earliest date that the 111 can resume politicking, many have assumed they are already shoo-in candidates for ministerial appointments.
Among various scenarios for the Cabinet line-up, there are two separate issues involved – whether Jatuporn will become a Cabinet member and what plans Thaksin has for the 111.
In regard to the first issue, the Democrats and Pheu Thai MPs are curiously heaping praise although the man in question has been very cautious about his chance of joining the Cabinet.
If Jatuporn is so indispensable and invaluable to Pheu Thai Party as this praise suggests, then he should have been a minister since last year or the January reshuffle. The fact is he remains sidelined.
Thaksin and Jatuporn have proved their enduring ties even though the latter has yet to be offered a ministerial portfolio.
Despite his sweet words, Thaksin is in no hurry to reallocate Cabinet seats to accommodate Jatuporn. The verdict on Jatuporn’s job status is due on May 18 and may prompt Thaksin to review his stand.
Should the verdict strip Jatuporn of his House seat, Thaksin might be forced to compensate him with a long-awaited ministerial seat as a consolation prize.
The court battle on Jatuporn’s job qualifications happened partly because Pheu Thai Party may have erred in handling his membership before the last general election.
For the second issue about the 111, Thaksin’s legal adviser Noppadon Pattama and Thai Rak Thai veteran Chaturon Chaisang have made it clear that immediate plans are for the Thai Rak Thai executives to get involved in strengthening the Pheu Thai Party.
Thai Rak Thai’s Vichit Plangsrisakul said at least 50 of the 111 will join the ruling party and get involved in bolstering it as a first step on their return to the political scene.
Chaturon said he had already discussed with Thaksin how the 111 should focus on Pheu Thai affairs rather than seeking to plough their way into the Cabinet.
According to Pheu Thai insiders, Thaksin seems reluctant to bring heavyweights like Chaturon, Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan and Pongthep Thepkanchana into the Cabinet at this juncture for fear that they may eclipse his sister Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
The bottom line is a Cabinet change is not on the cards for a few months. Although Thaksin will eventually agree to a few of the 111 joining the Cabinet, this should happen in a way that does not upset the coalition alliance.