Friday, May 11, 2012

Return of 111 tests Yingluck's political management skill

Last week, reporters asked Premier Yingluck Shinawatra whether a Cabinet reshuffle, her second since taking office, was forthcoming. She smiled and said:

“The weather is really very hot, isn’t it?”

Two days later, the same group of reporters, having heard specific names being mentioned as possible candidates for a new Cabinet line-up, asked her the same question. The premier sported another smile and said:

“Let’s do some work first…”

That probably convinced the scribes that something was really afoot. And when Noppadol Pattana, former Premier Thaksin’s personal adviser, came out to warn politicians not to “start wearing jogging shoes” (euphemism for lobbying) to seek new posts in the new Cabinet, he was more or less confirming that things weren’t picking up pace.

And when he insisted that the premier and not her brother was calling the shots in whatever changes that were forthcoming to the council of ministers, Noppadol was in effect saying that there might be something to the speculation. The fact that he denied the story was tantamount to confirming it. At least, that’s what the reporters were led to think.

We all have to sympathize with Premier Yingluck. She has tried very hard to be on her own – to insist that she is really in charge. This is her Cabinet and she has every right to defend her choice of who should stay and who should be replaced.

For her, the 111 episode was something that had happened long before she was born politically. The dozen or so leading politicians in the group belonged to a period before she had any idea about her unexpected political role that was thrust upon her.

No doubt, Yingluck has shown respect for the 111 characters but she obviously isn’t quite sure what to make of them now that they are “reborn” and are poised to play some leading roles in the government. She has yet to get used to Pheu Thai MPs and ministers talking over her head to her elder brother directly. But sooner or later, she will come to the realization that whatever the public perception about her real authority, she will eventually have to answer to the people.

In other words, she can’t let the perception of “Team A” from the 111 Group to replace her “Team C.” That would be politically disastrous for both teams.

Publicly, the core members of the “111 Club” (former executives of Thai Rak Thai Party that was dissolved by a court order for election fraud) have said they would do nothing to rock the Yingluck government’s boat. In fact, they have set a date when they would all be meeting the prime minister to display their loyalty and support immediately after the May 30 dateline when the five-year ban expires.

But like all of the rest of the country, Premier Yingluck must have read reports in the press about how some of the leading 111 figures will replace the present Cabinet members as, among others, deputy prime minister, interior minister and others. One particular name has been cited in particular: Suwat Lippatapanlop, the unofficial head of Chat Pattana party, who, according to the unconfirmed reports published in some vernacular papers, may become Pheu Thai Party’s secretary general while his brother may take over the industry portfolio, known to be under Suwat’s “quota” all along.

One never knows how Premier Yingluck communicates with her roving brother. But even if she has held consultation with the former premier over the return of the 111 leaders to the Cabinet, it would be very unlikely that she could approve of the “leaks” of who’s going to be in what position in the new line-up.

But if all these movements have gone on behind her back, the premier would certainly feel ill at ease. The issue, after all, isn’t who has the right to choose the new ministers. The real question is whatever the composition of the new “Yingluck 3” Cabinet, it’s the premier herself who has to run the show and to make sure that the old and the new, the loyal and the effective, the mavericks and the work horses can blend in as a “Yingluck team” and not an elite Cabinet within a Cabinet.

Now, you know why Premier Yingluck was relieved that the scorching heat, if nothing else, at least helped her fend off the 111 question.

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