VIEW: Courting allies

Avudh Panananda in Bangkok/The Nation
Asia News Network

Bangkok (The Nation/ANN) - Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra will soon have to make a judgment call on whether to shuffle her Cabinet in order to keep her allies happy.

Yingluck has only her political instinct to rely on since there is no ready-made formula to guide her on the issue.

Her overplay or underplay of the ministerial line-up could backfire to undermine her leadership as well as the political stability.

A vacancy in the Cabinet seats has opened up after Chumpol Silapa-archa passed away last week.

Chumpol was appointed under the quota of the Chart Thai Pattana Party to hold concurrent positions of deputy prime minister and minister for sports and tourism.

Under a possible scenario, the junior coalition party is obliged to nominate its candidate for the sports and tourism portfolio.

It will likely assign its Agriculture Minister Yukol Limlaenthong to concurrently become deputy prime minister under its quota.

The game of power is never a simple matter, however.

Chart Thai Pattana chief adviser Banharn Silapa-archa can fill the seats allocated to his party only after receiving a green light from the prime minister.

In order to buy time, PM Yingluck said she would finalise her decision after Chumpol's funeral.

Under the royal-sponsored and family funeral rites, Yingluck's reference to "funeral" could mean a duration ranging from two weeks to 100 days.

Since the Cabinet reshuffle involving some 23 new and old faces in October, at least two groups of Yingluck's allies have been unhappy.

The first group is the red shirts. And the second one is Pheu Thai MPs who thrive under the regional quotas.

Reds' leader Jatuporn Promphan failed to secure a Cabinet seat despite a promise by former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The previous reshuffle saw the Pheu Thai's regional quotas obliterated.

If and when the prime minister is to decide, once again, on the Cabinet line-up, she will likely try to limit the changes to a bare minimum so as to avoid upsetting the applecart.

She has three options to line up her Cabinet.

First, the Cabinet might welcome just one new minister who will replace Chumpol.

A variation to this option is to allow the Chart Thai Pattana Party to nominate Chumpol's replacement as well as reallocate its ministerial portfolios.

The limited change, involving only seats allocated to Chart Thai Pattana, can happen only if the prime minister can successfully appease the red shirts and Pheu Thai faction leaders without having to allocate additional Cabinet seats to them.

Judging from the intense lobbying efforts within Pheu Thai and Chart Thai Pattana, the new Cabinet line-up may have to involve more seats than those under the Chart Thai Pattana's quota.

Less than a day after Chumpol's death, leading figures from the two coalition parties started to jockey for Cabinet seats.

A number of allies and MPs in the coalition alliance reportedly flew to meet Thaksin in London.

Second, the prime minister might take the opportunity of replacing Chumpol to allocate a ministerial portfolio to the red shirts.

Government insiders say the prime minister is concerned, however, that Jatuporn would become excess baggage to the government.

If a deal can be worked out to find an alternative figure to Jatuporn, then the red shirts will grab another seat in the Cabinet.

Third, the prime minister might allocate a few seats for MPs under regional quotas in order to compensate for their dwindling influence.

Should this happen, she will likely work out a way to bring Pheu Thai secretary-general Phumtham Wechayachai into the Cabinet.