PM faces challenges to its power – Eurasia Review
By Subel Rai Bhandari and Nontarat Phaicharoen
“No time to die,” blared a pro-government Facebook page this week as Thailand’s parliament prepares to debate Prayut Chan-o-cha’s fitness for office, with a series of posts featuring posters for the James Bond film are similar but pictures of show the current cabinet.
Prayut – “Agent 008” – “will not be killed,” the Post predicted with tongue-in-cheek humor to lighten the mood on the eve of a four-day no-confidence debate in the prime minister and members of his cabinet.
The former junta leader is expected to survive the fourth no-confidence vote in three years on Saturday, but polls and analysts say his political future is in doubt as the country heads for general elections, which must be held in the next 10 months .
“If they don’t die in parliament, they will die in the elections,” said Chonlanan Srikaew, leader of the main opposition party Pheu Thai, referring to Prayut and 10 of his ministers.
Eight years after he led a military coup, Prayut, 68, a retired army chief, has remained the country’s leader but faces challenges to his power, including within his coalition.
During the week he also fended off opposition allegations of corruption and economic mismanagement as he took part in the parliamentary debate ahead of the no-confidence vote.
While courting their continued support in early July, Prayut expressed his desire to serve a second elected term when he assured supporters that in two years his economic programs would begin to bear fruit.
Et tu, Prawit?
But Prawit Wongsuwan, a deputy prime minister and leader of the ruling Palang Pracharat party, may want to replace Prayut so he has a better chance of winning the next general election, which must be held by May 2023 at the latest, according to political insiders.
On the second day of the debate, Prawit was asked if he knew about the 2014 coup that overthrew the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra.
“I didn’t orchestrate the coup; This man did it,” he replied, pointing at Prayut who was sitting next to him.
The Prime Minister raised his hand and smiled. The remark drew laughter from some government lawmakers, but members of the opposition remained silent.
“The prime minister was the only one involved in the coup. I don’t, yet [Interior Minister] General Anupong [Paochinda]’ Prawit claimed. “I have to get this straight because I had no idea about the coup. Talking about the 3P Alliance is rubbish.”
Prayut, Prawit and Anupong (Pok) are known in Thai politics as the “3Ps” – all former army chiefs involved in the coup.
For the last year, Thai media have reported on the deteriorating relationship between the three, particularly between Prayut and Prawit, who despite serving as deputy prime minister, has no portfolio.
In public, the two ex-generals affirm their good relationship.
“Only death will make us tripartite,” Prawit said last year after Prayut faced his third no-confidence vote in September.
Later, Prawit’s right-hand man, Thamanat Prompow, who served as general secretary of the ruling party, was sacked after it was revealed he allegedly tried to push through the no-confidence vote against Prayut.
Thammanat and 15 other MPs left the coalition earlier this month, saying they would vote against Prayut. But that may not be enough to oust Prayut, who local media said has turned to another “Group of 16,” a loose coalition of micro-parties with just one or two MPs.
Prayuth has lost some of its vigor, said Thannapat Jarernpanit, a politics professor at Pibulsongkram Rajabhat University.
“His popularity inside and outside the party is falling and relations between the coalition factions are volatile,” he said.
The opposition has seized the opportunity to attack Prayuth and his government as “a complete failure” for, among other things, an inability to address the country’s economy devastated by the coronavirus pandemic, as well as public health and public borrowing.
“If Prayuth was the brand name of a product, people would reject that brand name,” Chonlanan, a leading opposition politician, said on Tuesday, the first day of parliamentary debates.
He accused the prime minister of lack of leadership, incompetence, abuse of power and a lack of moral legitimacy – allegations that Prayut dismissed as “old script”.
Meanwhile, Prayut defended his tenure, saying the economy was in shambles because of previous governments, adding that he had helped the country’s tourism industry recover and provided financial support to the public during the pandemic.
Prayuth is likely to survive on Saturday as no one has lost in more than 40 no-confidence votes since absolute monarchy ended in 1932, according to Tulsathit Taptim, a political commentator at Thai PBS.
Analysts noted that Prayuth’s coalition has 253 members – more than the opposition’s 224. Some ministers could lose their jobs after the vote and amid media reports that Prayut is likely to reshuffle his cabinet, analysts said.
While opposition parties are unlikely to unseat the prime minister on Saturday, the debate is likely to help them in the next election, said Piyapong Phimphaluk, a political scientist at Chiang Mai University.
threats from outside the party
During the debate, a small group of protesters gathered outside Parliament to put pressure on lawmakers ahead of the vote.
They are part of youth-led pro-democracy street protests that began in July 2020 and at their peak drew up to 20,000 people demanding Prayut’s resignation and constitutional and monarchical reforms.
While demonstrations recently eased as the government charged more than 200 protest leaders with royal defamation and sedition, analysts said anti-government sentiment lingers.
“The movement has been dispersed and repressed through a combination of water cannons, legal tools, intimidation and coercion – but their discontent and resentment simmer under the lid of repression,” Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political science professor at Chulalongkorn University, wrote in the Bangkok Post on Friday .
“Thailand appears to be heading towards an inevitable settlement in the medium term.”
Ahead of the vote, Prayut has performed poorly in recent opinion polls.
He came fourth, with just 11.68 percent support from prospective voters in the upcoming general election, according to a June poll by the Bangkok-based National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA). In a March poll by the same institute, Prayut ranked third.
Among the parties, opposition Pheu Thai was the first choice for 36 percent of respondents, the NIDA poll showed last month, while Prayut’s army-linked Palang Pracharat came fourth with 7 percent of the vote.
The unpopularity was evident when Prayuth’s chosen candidate lost the Bangkok governor’s election in May and his party won two out of 50 seats on the city council.
“Bangkok’s governor election has dramatically changed the value and priorities of political leaders,” Thannapat told BenarNews.
“It might even force the ruling party to put Prayut in other roles, such as the strategist rather than someone in the limelight, to attract voters.”
Prayut is also likely to face a legal hurdle as opposition parties say they plan to petition the Constitutional Court against his eight-year tenure. They claim that this would end on August 24 because he was appointed prime minister by an unelected, military-dominated legislature in 2014 after the coup he led.
Prayut’s government, meanwhile, said his term began in 2019 after the last general election.
According to Thannapat, after their poor performance in the Bangkok elections and with next year’s general elections approaching, the Palang Pracharat party will need someone on the national stage “with a good profile that will be accepted by wider society, and most importantly not an old one.” retired soldier.”
Kunnawut Boonreak in Chiang Mai, Thailand contributed to this report.