By WASAMON AUDJARINT
ANY ATTEMPT by the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to prolong its political power by setting up a nominee party would only repeat “the history of Thai politics” and be unhealthy for both politics and the junta itself, academics and politician have warned.
Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan said yesterday that he would not confirm if the NCPO would form a party. “If it is necessary, we will set up a party, but if it’s not, we won’t. And now it isn’t necessary,” he said.
The comments critical of an extended political role for the junta came following reports that a retired Army major general has established a movement called Palang Chartthai, or “Power of the Thai Nation”. The 2,000-member group is most active in the Northeast with a regional headquarters, or its “volunteering cooperation centre”, in Udon Thani.
The group has raised speculation that either the military or the NCPO, or perhaps both, might field nominees to reach out to communities as part of the junta’s preparations ahead of the expected election in November next year.
As parts of his “volunteering”, Maj-General Songklod Thipparat has been seen in the field speaking on stage with his wife and team members, with all of them wearing pink shirts and traditional clothing similar to how politicians approach the public. Songklod may not be a national figure, but he is not unknown after working with the NCPO’s reform committee tasked with maintaining “Thai people’s happiness”.
He has also served as chief of staff at the Defence Ministry’s permanent secretary office and at the Internal Security Command Office. He retired last year as a staff judge advocate.
Songklod has denied any intention to set up a party or even get involved with politics. “I undertake volunteering simply to help people,” he said yesterday.
Meanwhile, the NCPO still has not lifted the ban on political gatherings of five or more people, which was have imposed in 2014, which renders any political activities, including registering a party, theoretically impossible.
Prawit has also denied any NCPO involvement with Songklod’s movement.
Often seen as deeply connected to political figures, Prawit also denied that he had made a deal with anyone regarding setting up party.
Attasit Pankaew, a Thammasat University politics lecturer, said nominee parties set up to support the military were not uncommon in Thai politics. In 1992, the now-defunct Samakkhee Tham Party was established to support then-junta leader General Suchinda Kraprayoon.
Describing Thai politics as “emotional politics”, Attasit said it was essential for players to keep in touch with people to garner favour, instead of elaborating policies. Political nominees tended to be good at the job, he added.
Parties could also be beneficial to the military in other ways, he said. The 2017 charter’s election mechanism will probably enable more emerging parties to gain parliamentary seats, giving them a chance to nominate candidates for the new premiership. However, the nomination of new prime ministerial candidates had to take place before it could be judged whether a party was really a military nominee, he added.
Independent academic Chamnarn Chanruang agreed, adding that it would be best for parties to cease acting as nominees, which would just demonstrate the junta’s “addiction to power” and lead to their own degradation.
“Perhaps the powers-that-be could be afraid of losing their shield when they step down from power so they need to stay in power one way or another,” Chamnarn said.
Key Pheu Thai Party figure Pongthep Thepkanchana said that while it might be too soon to judge whether Songklod’s movement was connected with the NCPO, mechanisms stipulated in the 2017 charter would be conducive to prolonging the NCPO’s power.
“The NCPO’s support for a nominee movement, if real, would only be in line with these mechanisms,” Pongthep said.
Democrat Party deputy leader Ongart Klampaiboon, however, said there was nothing uncommon in the movement as Songklod, whether connected to the NCPO or not, had a right to participate.
Two roads for Prayut to retain power after next general election
Junta chief Prime Minister Prayut |Chan-o-cha’s possible routes to another premiership:
A. In the first scenario, Prayut would have to be enlisted by a political party before the election takes place. If that party wins at least 5 per cent of the total seats in the Lower House, he would be able proceed to the next step.
Then, in order to be eligible to contest the premiership, Prayut would have to be endorsed by at least 10 per cent of all the MPs for the nomination. Finally, if he wins a majority vote in the Lower House, he would be entitled to the job.
B. If MPs cannot settle on an MP candidate to be prime minister, the decision would be deferred to a joint meeting of both Houses of Parliament. At least half of the members of the elected Lower House and selected Senate – or 376 votes – must be cast for an outsider to be eligible to take the post.
Then, if two-thirds of members in both Houses agree, an outsider could be nominated as a candidate. That candidate would have to win a majority vote of the two Houses in order to become prime minister.