'Poh' arrest changes coalition's dynamics
The arrest of fugitive convict Somchai "Kamnan Poh" Khunpluem has a number of political implications for the ruling coalition.The three-way tie-up of the Pheu Thai, Chart Thai Pattana and Palang Chon parties is about to take a new turn.
At issue is not Kamnan Poh's fate but the vulnerability of his son, Culture Minister Sonthaya Kunplome, the heir to his father's political legacy.
Sonthaya reportedly learned about the impending arrest only minutes before police commandos charged in to take custody of his father on Wednesday. By then it was too late to intervene and abort the raid on the Ladkrabang onramp to enter the motorway to Chon Buri, seen as the family's stronghold.
What Sonthaya can and will do is to contain the damage triggered by any political back-stabbing.
He will definitely do everything in his power to prevent or limit the police investigation into the possible harbouring of a fugitive. If police are allowed to get to the bottom of the matter, he would risk losing his Cabinet seat and his family members might be going the jail for helping Kamnan Poh elude imprisonment.
Based on news reports, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Chart Thai Pattana chief adviser Banharn Silapa-Archa and Chart Pattana de facto leader Suwat Liptapanlop met in London earlier this month.
The three held exploratory talks about the re-allocation of ministerial portfolios within the coalition alliance, according to the reports.
Sonthaya was not invited to the meeting, even though he is a coalition partner pushing for control of the Tourism portfolio, which is presently assigned to the Chart Thai Pattana Party.
Banharn and Sonthaya used to be allies. In fact, Palang Chon is a splinter group of the Chart Thai Pattana Party.
The two still maintain cordial ties, while Banharn is fighting a two-pronged attack to keep control of the Tourism Ministry.
Sonthaya has advanced two proposals - the Tourism portfolio should be made part of his Culture Ministry, or he should be allowed to take over the Tourism and Sports Ministry.
Thaksin's inner circle says Pheu Thai should oversee tourism in order to maintain an integrated management of the economy.
By accident or design, Sonthaya is in a most vulnerable position at a crucial stage of negotiations for Cabinet seats.
Banharn and Thaksin now have strong bargaining leverage over Sonthaya. If they so choose, they can make or break Sonthaya's political career by using the issue of possible fugitive-harbouring as a chokehold on him.
According to police, Kamnan Poh hid in plain sight at his residence in Chon Buri's Tambon Saen Suk for more than a year. In September, the Kunplome family members organised a birthday party for their patriarch "in absentia".
For the past decade, he has been receiving treatments at Samitivej Hospital on a regular basis.
The timing of his arrest will have a direct bearing on political and police developments. On the political front, the Palang Chon Party has been marginalised as a coalition partner. Sonthaya's political ambition will now be a secondary issue until he can clear his family of accusations of involvement in helping his fugitive father.
Sonthaya will have to fight in order to hold on to his Cabinet seat. The more vulnerable he becomes, the stronger the push is by the Somsak Thepsutin faction to oust him from the government.
The faction is lurking around the corner for an opportune moment to join the coalition bandwagon.
In the police service, Central Investigation Bureau commissioner Lt-General Pongpat Chayapan has emerged as a potential candidate for carrying the police's torch.
Before engineering the arrest of Kamnan Poh, Pongpat tried to get Thaksin's blessing to boost his career.