Pongsak carves out his own turf
23 December, 2005
Transport Minister Pongsak Raktapongpisak
is quietly building up his political base.
Is he up to something?
Right now he has up to 30 Thai Rak Thai MPs under his
wing. Is he up to something? Political insiders look
upon Pongsak’s 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
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