Suranand is making his presence felt
Suranand Vejjajiva, who served as a Prime Minister's Office minister in Thaksin Shinawatra's government, has started playing a prominent role in the Yingluck administration even though there are still a few months left before his five-year political ban expires.It looks like some changes are being made at Government House involving staff close to the prime minister. For instance, Bantoon Supakvanit stepped down as PM's secretary-general on Monday and a third-ranking deputy, who was Thaksin's classmate at the Armed Forces Academies Preparatory School, has been placed as caretaker.
Last Friday, Suranand confirmed media reports that Yingluck had made him her "personal spokesman". For many political observers, Suranand can be considered the "little prime minister" because he has obviously won the premier's trust and is helping her with many key issues, be it with work, public relations or her image.
"For instance, after Yingluck signs some documents, she occasionally adds a note asking Suranand to study the documents in detail," a Government House source said.
However, its seems like the "little prime minister" ran into some problems when Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisal, who worked for Yingluck before she entered politics and served as her close aide. Before Niwatthamrong was made PM's Office minister overseeing state media in the recent Cabinet reshuffle, his duties seemed to overlap those of Suranand. Niwatthamrong was upset because he had been by the prime minister's side since the government was formed last year, while Suranand had just joined a few months ago.
Wim Rungwattanajinda was another member of the PM's Office who was at odds with Suranand. In order to avoid more problems, Yingluck made him Niwatthamrong's secretary. So now, with their new postings, Niwatthamrong and Wim are being kept away from Suranand's office.
Meanwhile, Suranand's rising prominence as the PM's close aide confirms his return to Thaksin's fold, which this time is the ruling Pheu Thai Party. Suranand has been by Thaksin's side since they were in the Palang Dharma Party.
However, while Suranand was a member of the now-defunct Thai Rak Thai Party, he had clashes with key party member Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan, and after the September 2006 coup, he left the party to form a new political group called Bangkok 50. He served as the group's leader for a while before it joined Puea Pandin Party. His close friendship with former finance minister Somkid Jatusripitak, who was once Thaksin's ally and later seen as his challenger for the PM's seat, put Suranand in a camp opposite to that of Thaksin.
When the court dissolved Thai Rak Thai, Suranand was included in the list of 111 party executives facing a five-year ban because he was a party member when electoral irregularities occurred. The ban comes to an end in May.
Suranand's new party Puea Pandin, which included many former MPs from Thai Rak Thai, later became so weak that its members decided to return to Thai Rak Thai, which had reincarnated as Pheu Thai.
Before joining Pheu Thai, Suranand spent a lot of time away from politics, working as television host and newspaper columnist. However, he became an important cog in the PM's team during last year's flood crisis thanks mainly to his good ties with many members of Yingluck's staff, including Prommin Lertsuridej.
Suranand is expected to become a prime candidate for a Cabinet seat or be taken on as secretary-general to the prime minister once his ban ends in May.
However, his role in the government is likely to ignite new conflicts in the ruling Pheu Thai Party. Some party sources have said that Suranand's old foe, Sudarat, is all set to oppose his entry into the Cabinet and even plans to portray him as a traitor who betrayed his party at a difficult time.
Nevertheless, the final say on this matter will rest with Yingluck and the party's big boss, Thaksin. If they say yes to Suranand's appointment, then his appointment will be final.
And judging by the way things are going, Suranand is set to play a key role in this government.