There are some very upset members of the governingThai Rak Thai party, and miffed politicians tend to cause problems
The Thai Rak Thai party has been blessed with a relatively uncomplicated run to date, but it now looks set to experience what befalls all big parties in Thailand: the rise of embittered factions all looking to further their own personal interests.
A key player in the Wang Phayanak faction best summed up the situation after Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra announced his new cabinet two weeks ago. ``We need to strengthen our faction,'' he said. ``It's impossible to stay in Thai Rak Thai without political clout. It's clear who or which group gets the most from this cabinet formation.''
Thai Rak Thai is an immense party machine made up of factions and factions within factions, most of them with financial resources, MPs or both which they can call on for leverage.
The Wang Bua Ban group, for instance, is led by Yaowapa Wongsawat, the prime minister's younger sister, and is heavily represented by MPs from the North.
Wang Nam Yom, a breakaway faction of Wang Bua Ban, is controlled by Somsak Thepsuthin. Its negotiating power lies with the large number of party members who pay it allegiance and its financial resources. One of its key leaders said the faction had enough resources to set up a party in its own right.
It boasts ``Mr Picnic Gas'', Suriya Lapwisuthisin, the deputy commerce minister, as a member. Mr Suriya reportedly lent Mr Somsak a private aircraft during the election campaign.
The Wang Nam Yen faction led by party chief adviser Sanoh Thienthong is the oldest faction, having moved as a bloc over the years from party to party, wherever the grass was greener. It remains a force even if Mr Sanoh's own influence appears to be waning.
His recent outburst over a perceived slight by the prime minister caused quite a stir and resulted in a loose alliance between his faction and other MPs who are not convinced they are getting their fair share from the party.
Other factions include Phor Mod Dam headed by Suchart Tancharoen, Wang Phayanak headed by Phinij Jarusombat, Chart Pattana headed by Suwat Liptapanlop, Chon Buri headed by Sonthaya Khunpluem, and Buri Ram headed by Newin Chidchob.
A close aide said Mr Sanoh's outburst was not an attempt at exercising factional muscle.
The chief adviser hit out at the prime minister for offering him the position in the new government of honorary chief whip _ a position, he claimed, which make him look like a clown.
He then turned on Ms Yoawapa, calling her a ``kindergarten kid'', and on Phadung Yimcharoen, Mr Thaksin's chief lieutenant, for blocking access to the prime minister.
His aide said Mr Sanoh felt he had been insulted and his dignity had been trampled upon.
Mr Sanoh also was not included in selecting party candidates for the Feb 6 election, and so some Wang Nam Yen members were not re-elected. His close aides, Boontueng Polpanit, Anant Suksan and Burin Hirunburana, all were placed at the bottom of the party list.
Mr Thaksin might have headed off the factions in the choice of house speaker, but there were intimations of the troubles ahead. Mr Sanoh got together with Mr Somsak's people to push for Mr Suchart as speaker. The job in the end went to Mr Thaksin's man, Pokin Polakul.
Mr Sanoh also sought key cabinet posts for his faction. Sora-at Klinprathum was given the job of labour minister and his wife, Uraiwan Thienthong, was named culture minister, a position she held for a while in the first Thaksin government. He nominated Mr Boontueng unsuccessfully for a deputy minister post.
Mr Sanoh cannot expect to force Mr Thaksin's hand, said a party member close to the prime minister. Instead, he should wait for time to heal any wounds. The prime minister has admitted he did wrong to slight Mr Sanoh and has sent an emissary to seek a solution.
In the meantime some members of Wang Nam Yen believe Mr Sanoh's outburst will help the faction in negotiations for seats on the House committees.
The members have also set up an analysis centre at Mr Sanoh's home in Muang Thong Thani where they plan to huddle every Tuesday. The first meeting chaired by Pramual Rujanaseri with Manit Sangpoom is expected to discuss political, economic and social issues.
Over at the Pho Mod Dam group, Sutthichai Chan-arak, a Yasothon MP, has complained about the preference for Bangkok MPs in the allocation of posts as secretaries and advisers to the different ministers.
Also, at a recent meeting of northeastern MPs, Kittisak Hattasongkhoh of Wang Nam Yen called on MPs not to accept posts as a sign of protest against the ``unfair'' allocation. He also asked northeastern MPs to come together in negotiations with key party members.
Sophon Phetsawang of the Wang Nam Yom faction said party MPs feel less kreng jai, or beholden, towards the prime minister and his cabinet ministers this time around. ``Four years ago they wanted to give him a chance,'' he said. ``They were willing to help and caused no undercurrents It's not going to be the same with this administration.''
A key party member agreed, saying it was difficult to win 377 seats but it would be even harder still to keep the holders of these seats under control.
One possibility is that the factions might turn on each other.
Wang Nam Yom recently set up a ``transparent parliament'' group which will propose a law designed to keep cabinet ministers and MPs under close scrutiny. Ministers not performing up to scratch would be reported to the prime minister and the party.
``If the prime minister doesn't pay attention and if the opposition has evidence, I'll sign up to a no-confidence motion,'' said Mr Sophon.
Political commentator Thirayuth Boonmi believes ``intra-party politics'' will be more interesting than inter-party politics under this government. He called on the public to keep a close watch on this administration and the question of power succession in the party.
At the centre of the power play will be Sudarat Keyuraphan, Suriya Jungrungreangkit, Suriya Lapwisuthisin, Somsak Thepsuthin, Suwat Liptapanlop, Phinij Jarusombat, Newin Chidchob and Sonthaya Khunpluem.
``Bickering won't break the party, but it may persist and ruin its image,'' said one party member.
29 March 2005