Media speculation is rife that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra will double as defence minister after the widely expected Cabinet reshuffle.
If the speculation is correct, Yingluck will make history as the country’s first female defence minister – the 60th overall – although three former civilian prime ministers have doubled as defence minister: Chuan Leekpai, Samak Sundaravej and Somchai Wongsawat.
During his administration, Chuan needed to consolidate his power because his government did not enjoy strong ties with the military. Samak and Somchai also doubled as defence minister with the same goal of keeping undercurrents of resistance to the ruling party under control, while preventing any rivalry with the powerful military.
The plan to have Yingluck double as defence minister dates back to the end of last year, but the move has met with resistance from the military, which fears she may not understand its culture and needs.
However, over the past two years Yingluck has proven that she can work well with the military, especially with Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha.
The plan for Yingluck to double as defence minister could provide the “big boss”, former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, with a way out, as many military members of the Pheu Thai Party have been jockeying for power and queuing up to meet him, especially when he recently visited Singapore.
Reports had it that party strategists wanted Prayuth to leave his post to become defence minister so that he can serve as a link to help bring about reconciliation. The big boss and the prime minister agreed to this plan. However, Prayuth reportedly turned down the offer, and since then more candidates have lobbied for the Defence post, including Deputy Transport Minister General Prin Suvanadat, who has the backing of Panthongtae Shinawatra, Thaksin’s son. Others who eye the post include General Somchai Wissanuwong, a close friend of former supreme commander General Chaiyasit Shinawatra.
Yingluck, who fears that military candidates for this powerful post could later subvert the party if they become disappointed, reportedly made a phone call to the big boss, asking him to let her double in the post as a solution.
However, sitting in the defence minister’s seat is not a piece of cake, because there is no way for “outsiders” to take a short cut to learn about military affairs. Besides this, the prime minister would be surrounded by senior military men, so she would need a highly experienced assistant who can guide and advise her, and coordinate with the military top brass.
The person most qualified to perform that role would be General Yuthasak Sasiprapha, former deputy prime minister and former defence minister, who will reportedly be appointed as deputy PM in charge of security matters to serve as a link between the government and the military, including “the Si Sao residence” of Privy Council President General Prem Tinsulanonda. This is to reduce any political pressure that may build up after the House reconvenes in August.
Apart from these responsibilities, the big boss wants Yuthasak to help with the military reshuffle that will take place in the next two months. Yuthasak is being tasked with helping to strike a balance between the military and politicians, apparently to prevent any political change brought about by the military.