Thaksin challenges Prawit in high-stakes political showdown

MONDAY, JUNE 10, 2024

Ex-premier throws down the gauntlet over senators’ moves to oust PM Srettha over alleged breach of ethics

Ex-PM Thaksin Shinawatra, or the “Big Boss of Chan Song La House”, has issued a challenge to the “General of Ban Pa” over moves being made to oust Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin.

Thaksin declared “if there’s any trouble, it comes from around the Ban Pa area, not involving me”, as a signal that the root of Srettha’s qualification case is not related to his own lese majeste case.

Though he did not explicitly mention any names, it was clear that “General Ban Pa” stood for former deputy PM General Prawit Wongsuwan, who is also leader of coalition member Palang Pracharath Party.

The term “Ban Pa” refers to the Five Provinces Bordering Forest Preservation Foundation, established by the Royal Thai Army in support of Queen Sirikit’s Royal initiatives. The foundation, chaired by Prawit, focuses on the conservation of forests across Chachoengsao, Chonburi, Chanthaburi and Sa Kaew.

One of the strategies to unseat Srettha involves a group of 40 senators, who filed a petition with the Constitutional Court accusing the prime minister’s so-called breach of ethics by appointing former lawyer Pichit Chuenban as a minister attached to the PM’s Office.

This action was reportedly initiated by Prawit’s associates from “Ban Pa”.

The 40 senators who submitted the petition were also found to be connected to the “uncle and uncle’s brother” – or Prawit and his younger brother Pol General Patcharawat Wongsuwan, who serves as chief adviser to Palang Pracharath.

Though the Constitutional Court accepted the petition and decided not to suspend Srettha, there is no guarantee that the premier will remain secure in his position.

The charter court’s verdict on the petition will also determine whether Palang Pracharath Party, which does not have enough seats, will remain part of the coalition government or become an opposition party.

Meanwhile, many people are wary of the power and influence of the “General of Ban Pa” and his network.

Since Prawit’s political influence surged following the 2014 military-led coup, which ousted Thaksin’s younger sister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government, the foundation became a hub for various influential figures, including politicians, police, military personnel, government officials and businessmen, all seeking to cash in on political benefits.

In the junta-led government, Prawit became more powerful as he assumed influential roles as deputy PM and defence minister, as well as overseeing the Royal Thai Police. This increased the prominence of his foundation, attracting a steady stream of well-known and not-so-well-known individuals seeking an audience with him. It became so busy that a dedicated team was required to manage appointments and screening processes.

During and after the 2019 elections, Prawit used the foundation as a political command centre. Though Palang Pracharath has official headquarters, the party still often convenes in the foundation’s office.

Even during the 2023 election, Prawit continued steering political activities from “Ban Pa”, despite parting ways with his close ally, former premier Prayut Chan-o-cha, who ran for the elections under the banner of the United Thai Nation Party.

After last year’s election, when the results did not favour either brother-in-arms, Prawit remarked to the media that “Ban Pa is closed”.

However, Palang Pracharat resumed its power as a member of the ruling coalition. Although Prawit has kept a low profile, his loyal political allies and military associates continue visiting him for discussions and to report on various situations.

Political strategists analysing the political landscape, meanwhile, believe the petition from the 40 senators may be a move towards helping Prawit secure the PM’s seat.

Now, with the “Big Boss of Chan Song La House” throwing down the gauntlet, all eyes are on “General Ban Pa” and how he will respond.