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Pongsak carves out his own turf

23 December, 2005

Is he up to something?
Transport Minister Pongsak Raktapongpisak is quietly building up his political base.
Right now he has up to 30 Thai Rak Thai MPs under his wing. Is he up to something? Political insiders look upon Pongsaks manoeuvre as an attempt to carve out his own turf. He may be looking forward to challenging Suriya Jungrungreangkit as secretary general of the Thai Rak Thai. If that is the case, he needs to have a contingent of MPs to back him.

We all know that Pongsak is very close to Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. He had been dispatched to the Transport Ministry to replace Suriya, who was shuffled out at the height of the CTX bomb detection machine scandal.
Ever since, Suriya has not been able to see eye to eye with the prime minister as amiably as before. The Transport Ministry is Grade A portfolio but Suriya now has to keep a lower profile job as industry minister and deputy prime minister. Although his deputy premiership allows him to have oversight over Pongsak, in practice Pongsak answers directly to the prime minister.

Pongsak has tried to rewrite Suriya’s mass transit system master plan, to the confusion of investors because Suriya has answered the challenge by blocking any revision to his work. In the end, the Thaksin government is going back to the original drawing board with the Suriya’s master plan. But Pongsak still will be able to deal with the contractors.

Speculation has been running rife that the unhappy Suriya and Labour Minister Somsak Thepsuthin might leave the Thai Rak Thai if the prime minister’s popularity keeps sinking. Others have interpreted this rumour as an attempt to bargain for Cabinet posts.
You may say that Pongsak represents a proxy fight between Thaksin and the Wang Nam Yom faction, led by Somsak and Suriya. Wang Nam Yom now commands more than 100 MPs, becoming the largest faction within the ruling party.

Yaowapha Wongsawas, the sister of the prime minister, heads the Wang Bua Ban faction with around 30 MPs, so does the Wang Phya Nak faction of Pinit Jarusombat. Sudarat Keyuraphand also enjoys the command of 30 MPs in Bangkok constituencies.

After merging his Chat Pattana with Thai Rak Thai, Suvat Liptapanlop has witnessed a drop of the MPs under his control to 10. Pracha Maleenont also has about 10 MPs.
The Wang Nam Yen of the rebellious Sanoh Thienthong, with about 30 MPs, is ready to defect any time.

Thaksin now realises that he can no longer pull the strings as puppet master without strengthening his political grip within his own party. So far he has the liberty to pick Cabinet members of his own choice without having to consult the factions. The quota system has been destroyed by Ban Chan Songla, the residence of the prime minister, and his wife Khunying Pojamarn.

Pongsak might be doing this job on Thaksin’s behalf, garnering under his wing the MPs who do not have strong loyalty to any factions. Most of these MPs are from the defunct Chat Pattana.

Some time in January or February next year, Thaksin will be reshuffling his Cabinet in order to reduce the pressures inside the party. Once the list is made public, we’ll get a clear picture as to whether the quota system has sprung back to life or whether Thaksin can still play the role of undisputed puppet master.

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