Sam Mitr keeps canvassing, but more quietly

Somsak Thepsuthin, a key figure in Sam Mitr, talks with reporters at a restaurant in Muang district in Nonthaburi on Dec 14, 2017. (Photo by Tawatchai Kemgumnerd)

A trio of political heavyweights believed to be lobbying former MPs to back a new junta-aligned party will adjust its tactics after a warning from Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda.

Somsak Thepsuthin said he and his Sam Mitr (Three Allies) colleagues would heed Gen Anupong’s advice and would now “meet people” away from the public limelight.

“From now on we will avoid being in the news and giving press interviews,” he said on Friday.

The interior minister warned the group on Thursday that what they were doing could be tantamount to violating the long-standing order by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) against political gatherings of more than five people.

“If you ask me, I would say that the NCPO should take action to maintain law and order,” Gen Anupong said.

His warning appeared to put him at odds with Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, who said on Tuesday that he saw no problem with Sam Mitr lobbying politicians in northeastern provinces because it was not a political party.

Somkid Chuekong, a former Ubon Ratchathani MP for the Pheu Thai Party, accused Gen Prawit of supporting a double standard as other parties were still barred from holding activities.

Sam Mitr is the creation of Mr Somsak and Suriya Juangroongruangkit, former key Pheu Thai figures. Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, another former Pheu Thai member, is widely believed to be the third member but he has kept his distance, at least in public.

The group was set up to lobby experienced politicians to back Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha to be prime minister after the general election expected next year. Its main targets are former Pheu Thai MPs and red-shirt members.

Fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is still seen as the brains behind Pheu Thai, last month shrugged off the possibility of defections. Those who left or planned to leave the party, he said, would eventually lose at the polls.

Mr Somsak on Friday remained tight-lipped about speculation that Sam Mitr and those it is recruiting would team up with the Palang Pracharat Party, which has made no secret of its support for the current military-dominated regime.

The group has also kept its distance from Mr Somkid. Mr Somsak said the last time he talked with the deputy premier was on the sidelines of a mobile cabinet meeting in Sukhothai last year.

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