Surayud plays former premier at own game
Ex-Thaksin minister's appointment a gamble for PM, a slap to Pridiyathorn
Prime Minister Gen Surayud Chulanont has made one of his biggest political gambles by appointing Dr Somkid Jatusripitak, an architect of Thai Rak Thai's populist policies, as chairman of an international economic co-ordination committee responsible for promoting the Sufficiency Theory to the international community.
By doing so, Surayud has not only given ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is now living in exile, a hard time, but has also put MR Pridiyathorn Devaku-la, the deputy prime minister and finance minister, in a very difficult and embarrassing situation.
Somkid is a former number two Thai Rak Thai man and Thaksin's economic tsar. He is also a sworn political enemy of Pridiyathorn.
Surayud is taking on Thaksin at the former prime minister's own game. Nobody is in a better position to discredit Thaksinomics than Somkid, once seen as a potential successor to Thaksin if Thaksin were to step down.
Surayud's appointment of Somkid to this seemingly ceremonious post is his second bold political decision following his earlier decision to sack Police chief Kowit Wattana over his failure to investigate the Bangkok bombings on New Year's Eve.
By bringing in Somkid, Surayud is signaling that he is ready to welcome any supporters of the Thaksin regime who are willing to cross the line.
The process to dismantle the remnants of the Thaksin regime is about to begin in earnest.
Thaksin, ousted from office by the September 19 coup, has tried to keep his political hopes alive by hiring lobbying and public relations firms to attack the sufficiency theory as the root of the Thai economic fatigue. Without naming names, Dr Kasem Wattanachai, a member of the Privy Council, earlier said somebody had hired the foreign media to write bad things about the sufficiency theory, which advocates moderation and self-immunity.
Thaksin's PR blitz from overseas has also incurred the wrath of the military leadership and the Surayud government, which is trying to promote His Majesty the King's sufficiency theory as part of economic development. At the same time, Thaksin claims credit for his Thaksinomics of populism and unfettered free trade and liberalisation as instrumental to Thai economic growth over the six years of his reign.
To complicate matters, several foreign critics, who have an appetite for unfettered free trade and liberalisation, are blaming the Surayud government for mismanaging the economy, arguing that it is trying to promote the sufficiency theory to divert attention from its mistakes.
Somkid yesterday delivered a speech to the Sasin Graduate School of Business Administration, outlining sufficiency economy as an integral part of Thailand's economic development. He was defending his record that he had been a supporter of the sufficiency theory all along through his policy to promote savings or gratitude tax.
If Somkid really agrees to take on Thaksinomics, he would not only part with his own legacy, but will also stage a rebirth out of the dark shadow of Thaksin. He has tried unsuccessfully in the past to remove the yoke of his political master.
Somkid has not been spared the political wounds from his Thai Rak Thai association. He is being implicated in the illegal approval of the on-line lottery, the controversial rubber-sampling scheme, and the airport link project. By crossing the party line to the other side, he could escape the backlash of legal proceedings.
A source close to Pridiyathorn said several people who have sympathy with him have suggested he resign from office after the surprise appointment of Somkid, which amounted to a snub to him.
Pridiyathorn is already feeling bitter about the rise of his arch enemy, Sondhi Limthongkul, the media tycoon. With support from Gen Saprang Kalyanamitr, a key member of the National Security Council, Sondhi has now gained access to TV Channel 11's prime time to air his "Yam Phao Phan Ding" programme.
Sonthi's media outlets have been fiercely attacking Pridiyathorn since the time he served as Bank of Thailand governor. Back then, Pridiyathorn locked horns with both Sondhi and Somkid, then finance minister, over the Krung Thai Bank affair. Both Sondhi and Somkid supported the presidency of Viroj Nualkhair, but Pridiyathorn wanted Viroj out over the loan scandals at the bank.
The incident has since driven Pridiyathorn and the Sondhi/Somkid camp apart to the point of no return.
By cutting a deal with Somkid, the prime minister may be ready to sacrifice Pridiyathorn any time to salvage his administration. Pridiyathorn has been blamed for spoiling the investment and business climate with the introduction of the capital control measures to curb baht speculation and the draft amendment of the Foreign Business Act, which have spooked foreign investors.
But the source said Pridiyathorn has a high opinion of Surayud and that he has pledged to fulfil all of his responsibilities for the prime minister.