Hopes fade for calmer political climate
General Prayut Chan-o-cha began his campaign to visit people across the country late last month after the divide in the Palang Pracharath Party was mended. PARIYARON PROMSAKA NA SAKOLNAKORN
After brief but violent political turmoil, it appears that General Prayut Chan-o-cha has consolidated power within the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), with the hope of another term as prime minister.
His series of field visits to PPRP-controlled areas – as if to convince people that he now has full control – is seen as a sign of a new political game with a dissolution of the House on the horizon. , now that he’s more confident of his political advantage.
His confidence stems at least in part from a pledge of support from Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, as head of the PPRP, who said two weeks ago that his “brother in arms” was still the choice of the PPRP. left as Prime Minister. At the same time, the government spokesman said General Prayut has accepted the party’s candidacy and will allow the people to make their own decision as to who they want as their leader.
Voters and politicians have taken these events as signs that General Prayut and the PPRP are preparing for an election. Each party tries to shine the spotlight on its candidate for prime minister: Jurin Laksanawisit (Democrats), Pita Limjaroenrat (Going Party), Anutin Charnvirakul (Bhumjaithai) and Korn Chatikavanij (newly formed Kla party).
Still, there is a dilemma: If General Prayut opts to dissolve the House, that means the ongoing charter amendment process, which currently has a draft pending royal approval, will return to The starting point. Gone is the project of returning to the first past the post, to the great happiness of the small parties which took advantage of political bargains during the last elections with the strange calculation of the seats of the electoral law. Such deals will not be repeated as the single-ballot system favors the major political parties, Pheu Thai, PPRP and Democrats in particular.
Thai Pakdee party leader Warong Dechgitvigrom has pledged to quash the proposed one-round system, stipulated in the draft charter, and to take the case to the Constitutional Court through the Ombudsman’s Office of State. If the one-round system is in place, the 11 smaller parties could be at risk of extinction, while parties with fewer than 10 MPs would also find it difficult to fight.
In fact, some members of the PPRP are themselves opposed to reverting to the old electoral system for fear that it would give Pheu Thai and parties affiliated with former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra an advantage. But they do not forget that the Thaksin parties won all the elections in both systems. He also beat the PPRP, albeit with a smaller margin, in the 2019 election.
You could say that there is no consensus in the PPRP on how to deal with the Thaksin camp. Some conservative factions of the party are less worried about a more conformist Pheu Thai party than Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit’s MFP, considered too radical. Although other party members see Pheu Thai as a formidable enemy as the MFP’s institutional reform proposals appear to be at an impasse. If the sworn enemy wins by a landslide, he will have the legitimacy to form a government.
While no one can be sure of the political weight of the Pheu Thai Party, General Prayut may think he has the upper hand over his rivals when it comes to the role of the 250 military-appointed senators who can vote for his post of Prime Minister for another four-year term. However, it also depends on the results of the elections.
Also, dissolving the House at this time may not be a smart move, given General Prayut’s declining popularity following the administration’s poor performance in controlling Covid-19, with many new waves of the pandemic hitting the country hard, and a subsequent economic city center causing many job losses.
The current infection rate, although stable, remains high. People are well aware that the pandemic could have been prevented if the government had secured the vaccine supply earlier. The hope of collective immunity has been dashed.
And now the flooding problems add to the administration crisis.
General Prayut cannot be certain that dissolving the House at this time would place him in a better position. On the one hand, the eight-year term limit for a prime minister could be a burning issue.
Assuming his tenure as head of the junta that staged the 2014 coup is legally considered part of his tenure, his eight years in office are due to end on August 24 of next year. His supporters have argued that his leadership of an interim government until 2019 should not be counted and that the eight-year limit does not apply in General Prayut’s case, while his opponents disagree and must request a decision from the Constitutional Court. The wait for a legal interpretation is an unhealed political plague that its opponents will blithely dig during the electoral campaign. His opponents are likely to insist on the legal complexity if the PPRP wins the election, especially that General Prayut, with a pending court case, might not be a good fit for the post of prime minister.
Although political activists appear to be under control for the time being, the upcoming elections will give General Prayut’s opponents the opportunity to re-launch their campaign to uproot the so-called Prayut regime as well as the controversial political mechanism that was put in place during this period. Not to mention that General Prayut has no excuse to distance himself from the political issues he is a part of, many of which began the day he took power in 2014.
Chairith Yonpiam is Associate Editor, Bangkok Post.