Former ministers rejoin the Palang Pracharat but there is no new economics czar or Somkid – Thai Examiner


Ruling Palang Pracharat Party unveils the return of founding members and ex-ministers as General Prawit seeks to bolster it in the polls as it loses ground to the Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party (RTSC) which is the new political home for General Prayut Chan ocha. Palang Pracharat, according to a recent Super Poll survey in Bangkok, only has 6.6% support.

On Monday, the Palang Pracharat Party unveiled the return of two former senior ministers toits ranks and a key advisor to party leader General Prawit Wongsuwan, General WitDevahastin na Ayudhya. However, from the outset, it appears that there are tensions as to who will head up the ruling party’s economics team with the former economic czar and deputy prime minister Somkid Jatusripitak not unveiled in the role as speculated over the weekend. Welcoming the new arrivals, General Prawit made it clear that, at this point, he was not appointing anybody to the key role.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, the leader of the Palang Pracharat Party, addressed reporters on Monday as he welcomed back two former ministers to the ranks. They were the former founder, leader and Minister of Finance, Uttama Savanayana and former founder and Minister of Energy, Sontirat Sontijirawong. It comes as the ruling Palang Pracharat Party is trying to galvanise its grassroots as it appears to have lost public support after Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha joined the new and more radically conservative Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party (RTSC).

Key leaders of the Palang Pracharat Party returned to its ranks on Monday after resigning due to an internal heave in 2020 after General Prawit Wongsuwan became the leader of the party which is at the centre of the current coalition government.

Former Minister of Finance, Uttama Savanayana and Minister of Energy, Sontirat Sontijirawong were welcomed back by the party’s current leader Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan.

Strong speculation last weekend that Somkid Jatusripitak, although never a member, was on his way back as party’s economics czar proves unfounded 

Over the weekend, it was also reported that the move would see the former deputy prime minister and economic czar of the government, Somkid Jatusripitak, return to front-line politics with the party although the former deputy prime minister was never a member of Palang Pracharat.

Somkid Jatusripitak, the economics guru, returns to front-line politics as the key economic czar for the Palang Pracharat Party under General Prawit

On Monday, despite speculation, Mr Somkid who with two former cabinet ministers had formed the Sang Anganot Thai (Building Thailand’s Future) Party, was not among those unveiled at a welcoming ceremony at party headquarters in Bangkok.

The two former heavyweights who were present were joined by General WitDevahastin na Ayudhya, recently the leader of the Ruam Phaen Din Party and before that, the Thai Economics Party.

General Wit is a former Secretary-general of the National Olympic Committee of Thailand and is a long-time associate of General Prawit since their days as military officers.

The returning group were welcomed by Deputy party leader Wirat Rattanasate and the Bangkok election coordinator Sakoltee Phattiyakul.

The former founding members of the party, when it first launched in September 2018, later met for a conference with General Prawit.

Former Finance Minister Uttama to play a key role as an economic advisor to the Palang Pracharat although General Prawit insists no economic team leader

It is understood that Mr Uttama who was Minister of Finance from July 2019 to July 2020, will now be the key advisor on finance and economic policy although it was underlined, on Monday, by General Prawit that he will not be taking charge of the Palang Pracharat Party’s economic team.

He will be working with Mr Mingkwan Sangsuwan, a former deputy prime minister as well as commerce and industry minister in the short-lived People’s Power Party-led government of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej in 2008.

Mr Mingkwan, up to recently, was also a former leader of the New Economics Party. 

In recent months, Mr Mingkwan was touted as the economic policy head of the party but when he was unveiled initially as a member of the Palang Pracharat Party last December, it was announced briefly at a somewhat disorganised press conference that he would be a candidate for prime minister in the 2023 General Election.

This was thought to have proved widely unpopular within the Palang Pracharat Party which has since then confirmed General Prawit Wongsuwan as the party’s sole nominee for the position in the run-up to this year’s General Election.

It is understood that Mr Sontirat Sontijirawong, a former Minister of Energy, will also play a key role in the economics team with General Wit resuming his role as a key political advisor to General Prawit.

Party leader welcomes back old stalwarts

General Prawit was in ebullient form on Monday as he personally approved and stamped the three men’s admission to the party ranks and hailed them before the officials present at headquarters in the Lat Phrao district of Bangkok.

The deputy prime minister particularly singled out General Wit in his welcome address as well as the two former ministers.

He pointedly told those assembled that he was not appointing any of those present as the leader of the party’s economic team.

Former Minister of Finance addressed previous divisions in the party which led him and other members of the government to depart in 2020

Former Minister of Finance Uttama, in his address to party members, did not shy away from mentioning the divisions and struggles within the Palang Pracharat Party in 2020 which saw himself, Mr Somkid Jatusripitak, Mr Sontirat Sontijirawong as well as then Higher Education Minister Suvit Maesincee and the Deputy Secretary-General at the Office of the Prime Minister Kobsak Pootrakul resign from the government of Prayut Chan ocha and the Palang Pracharat Party.

Election of a new ruling party leader, shifts focus now to the future of the economics czar Somkid and his team
Economic team led by Somkid quits government in a shock move as rumours spread of a new lineup

It is understood that Mr Uttama, at that time, was the subject of a concerted and pressurised campaign to oust him both as Palang Pracharat Party leader and as Minister of Finance by forces within the party who, at the time, strongly supported General Prawit and successfully installed him as party leader.

Mr Uttama appeared at pains to play down such differences on Monday which, at the time, were also attributed to the economic group’s proximity to former deputy prime minister Somkid Jatusripitak who was considered to be a capable technocrat but aloof.

Somkid, in recent months, has been deeply critical of General Prayut’s government in particular on both capital and military expenditure on submarines 

In recent months, the popular economics guru who rates highly in public opinion polls, has strongly criticised the government of Prayut Chan ocha, in particular, for its military expenditure while courting the political left including talks with Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan’s Thai Sang Thai Party.

Somkid: scrap submarines budget and spend less on flagship projects to boost the grassroots economy

Before he resigned from the government of Prayut Chan ocha in 2020, the former economic czar had reportedly become very disheartened in his role at the centre of a tanking economy during that year when GDP contracted by 6.1% having slowed remarkably the year before because of the US-China trade war which began in 2018.

Deputy Prime Minister Somkid says he ‘lost heart years ago’ and he is ready to accept his fate

‘I have been prepared for a long time. I am old now. I already lost heart years ago,’ he told reporters at the time.

Mr Somkid is a founding member of Sang Anganot Thai (Building Thailand’s Future) party along with Mr Sontirat and Mr Uttama although the kingdom’s election law, under which the 2023 election will be conducted, decidedly favours larger political parties.

General Prawit seeking to raise the party’s dwindling public support as a national party of government capable of tackling bread-and-butter issues 

Mr Somkid was seen as highly influential but was not fully supported by the Palang Pracharat Party grassroots who wanted to see an MP from among their own ranks elevated to the role of Minister of Finance. 

At that time, MPs wanted to see Mr Santi Prompat, the deputy minister of finance promoted to the role.

This was eventually frustrated by Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha who insisted on appointing ‘outside’ experts to the role of Minister of Finance.

The Palang Pracharat Party is a right-wing, staunchly conservative and monarchist political party that is expected to be one of three in the next General Election aside from Pheu Thai and the Bhumjaithai Party, which will field candidates in all constituencies.

Palang Pracharat slumped to sixth out of six parties in Bangkok with only 6.6% support in mid-January

The party’s support has been falling in recent opinion polls since its association with the prime minister, Prayut Chan ocha was sundered late last year although General Prawit is working hard to build back its reputation as a practical bread and butter party.

Much of its support is being lost to the Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party (RTSC) which is the new home of Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha and which is seen as more radically conservative with its roots in the People’s Democratic Reform Committee street protests which paralysed the government of Pheu Thai premier Yingluck Shinawatra in 2013 and 2014.

This eventually led to the 2014 coup d’état led by the new party’s assumed nominee for prime minister, General Prayut.

In a recent poll in Bangkok, in mid-January, the Palang Pracharat Party according to a Super Poll survey only scored 6.6% and was relegated to sixth out of six parties polled.

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