Thai junta leader has no intention of giving up power

Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha poses for photo with local government officers at a farmer school in Suphan Buri province, Thailand September 18, 2017. Picture taken September 18, 2017. Source: Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha

There seems to be no doubt among political observers about the regime’s political ambitions, especially given Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s recent penchant for taking his cabinet on the road.

His trips to the countryside can only mean one thing: He wants to return to power after the polls.

But what has caught their attention are his choice of provinces and the meet-andgreets with veteran politicians in the constituencies he sets foot in.

The prime minister has been to the political strongholds of previous heavyweight parties, in Suphan Buri, Nakhon Pathom and Sukhothai.

Chanthaburi and Trat are the latest additions and the regime leader has been welcomed by veterans from the Democrat Party and the Phalang Chon Party which is known to have extensive political clout in the eastern region.

Virot Ali, a political scientist at Thammasat University, pointed out that what is happening clearly signals the regime’s plan to keep Gen Prayut in power.

“If the government didn’t have anything up its sleeve and wanted to know about the people’s problems, it would have visited these provinces from the beginning,” he said.

According to Mr Virot, the prime minister’s visits to the provinces intensified after he declared in early January that he was no longer a soldier, but now a politician.

The academic saw this move as an attempt by the regime to recruit political allies from both the traditional and the new parties and mobilise old-time players who retain an interest in political power.

Mr Virot said the strategy is apparently aimed at curbing the influence of the Pheu Thai Party by lobbying its allies to break away from it, or at least lend their support to the notion of an outsider prime minister.

The 2017 constitution has opened the way for unelected candidates to take helm if the winning party fails to get enough votes in the House for its candidate for prime minister.

The academic said this strategy may well work as the new rules under the charter give politicians more bargaining power when it comes to voting to select the prime minister.

The regime, he said, has achieved one goal so far since it seized power in May 2014—  maintaining law and order – but building national conciliation and implementing reforms have been total flops.

The academic said Gen Prayut is obviously courting support to fulfil his political ambitions but there are still obstacles in his path.

In his opinion, the prime minister may be canvassing for popular support, but he is doing it while wielding overwhelming power, including Section 44, and using it to push back the poll date.

This is a reference to the delayed enforcement of the organic bill governing the election of MPs by another 90 days.

Gen Prayut had previously announced that an election would be scheduled

tentatively for this November, but the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) voted last month to delay the enforcement of the law by 90 days, which effectively puts the poll off until February 2019 at the earliest.

Mr Virot said these elements are placing the regime and Gen Prayut in crossfire that will expose the government to instability. Minor issues are likely to become blown out of proportion in the current climate.

A source in the Pheu Thai Party said the regime’s choices of provinces to visit indicate that a campaign is under way to sway some politicians from the established parties with offers of plum roles in the next government.

According to the source, these politicians are driven by self-interest: “If they don’t get political positions when they join the administration, they are sure to get something else.”

The source said the regime cannot rely entirely on the Senate it will soon appoint and it needs to ensure adequate support from the House to maintain political stability after the general election.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has a moment with twin girls in Chanthaburi (he has twins of his own). While he gave the impression of a campaigning politician, the premier refused to set an election date.

The regime will face a different political dynamic if it returns to power with the Democrat and Pheu Thai parties working as the opposition, the source said, adding this is probably why the elections are being pushed back. “While they know they aren’t ready, elections will have to wait.”

The Pheu Thai Party is keeping tabs on its members and allies and is confident that most will remain loyal.

However, Ubon Ratchathani and Loei are among areas believed to be susceptible to a swoop by the regime.

Based on the party’s internal opinion surveys, Pheu Thai expects to win 220 out of the 500 seats in an election and this would make it hard for a new party to take an overall majority, though Gen Prayut could still come back as an outsider premier. – Bangkok Post

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