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‘No reshuffle,’ says defiant Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has denied speculation of a possible cabinet reshuffle in the wake of the censure debate, with a vote of confidence to be held on Saturday.

Asked about a report that the ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) and the Democrat Party were pressing him for a cabinet shake-up, Gen Prayut said he would have the final say on the matter.

“No reshuffle. I am not thinking about it yet,” he said.

Peerawit Ruangluedolphak, a list MP from the Thai Rak Tham Party, a member of the so-called Group of 16 made up of MPs mostly from small parties, on Friday reiterated they would vote against at least two cabinet ministers.

The two cabinet ministers who will not get their votes of confidence are Social Development and Human Security Minister Chuti Krairiksh and Deputy Finance Minister Santi Promphat.

However, after the group declared their stance on Thursday, Gen Prayut then met Pichet Sathirachawal, a list MP for the PPRP, and head of the Group of 16, for talks, during which he asked Mr Pichet and the group to back the 11 cabinet members in the no-confidence motion, Mr Peerawit said.

“I have to admit that we feel uncomfortable. We have been asked to maintain the coalition government’s unity by voting for the 11 cabinet ministers. But a few [small] parties may disagree.

“If they are forced to do so, they may decide to vote against the censure targets and pull out of the government.

“As a PPRP MP and head of the Group of 16, Mr Pichet may be asked to vote for the cabinet ministers alone to maintain the ties with the PPRP,” Mr Peerawit said.

In addition to Gen Prayut, the group also held talks with Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda who promised to be more accessible and offered his personal telephone number for direct contact, Mr Peerawit said.

He also confirmed as true a previous report that the PPRP had supported Deputy Prime Minister and PPRP leader Prawit Wongsuwon to replace Gen Anupong as Interior Minister because divisions are deepening within the ruling party and several of its MPs were unhappy with Gen Anupong, who is a non-MP outsider.

Meanwhile, the Democrat Party, another coalition partner, has also been rocked by internal rifts, with a deputy party leader trying to persuade party MPs to abstain from voting in support of Mr Chuti, a party source said.

The deputy leader claimed Mr Chuti rarely took part in party activities and he also reportedly planned to defect to a new party, the source said.

However, another group of MPs, and former members of the now-defunct People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) protest movement, has threatened to abstain from voting for Commerce Minister and Democrat leader Jurin Laksanawisit and Deputy Interior Minister and deputy Democrat leader Niphon Bunyamanee in a tit-for-tat for the move against Mr Chuti, the source said.

This prompted Mr Jurin to call an internal meeting ahead of the vote of confidence today, the source said.

However, academics believe there will be no cabinet reshuffle after the vote.

Wanwichit Boonprong, a political science lecturer at Rangsit University, said that the government is expected to survive the vote of confidence after a round of lobbying in support of the censure targets.

However, after the debate, the public may still have lingering doubts, he said.

Mr Wanwichit also said that small parties did not have enough clout to press for a cabinet reshuffle, though the internal rift within the Democrat Party is now becoming a factor that could force a reshuffle.

However, Gen Prayut is reluctant to reshuffle the cabinet because the government’s tenure will expire next year, Mr Wanwichit said

Yutthaporn Isarachai, a political scientist from Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, also agreed that the censure debate would not have an impact on the coalition government as some of the information presented by the opposition in parliament had failed to carry enough weight to rock the government.

However, some of the targeted ministers could not provide clear responses to the accusations made by the opposition, Mr Yutthaporn said. He also believed that small parties would not break ranks during the vote of confidence as they would have already struck deals with those in power.

He also agreed that a cabinet reshuffle is unlikely as the government is nearing the end of its tenure while it remains to be seen whether the conflict among the Democrats will have a domino effect on the government.

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