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Prayut's dilemma: Exit gracefully or stay honourably

Jun 10. 2015
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THE sentiment "reform before a general election" dominated news headlines for a week before Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha put a stop to the move to give him legitimacy to remain in his post for another two years.
When asked about a campaign to solicit signatures in support of his remaining in power for two more years, Prayut firmly told reporters to stop asking him such questions.
“Who solicits signatures? What is the purpose? I do not care. It is all about the roadmap. End it now – and stop asking me about this,” the PM said.
On Tuesday, however, monk Phra Buddha Issara was adamant about moving on with the campaign. He submitted a list bearing 50,000 signatures from people who wanted Prayut to remain PM for two more years to “reform the country and bring about national stability”.
Some members of the National Reform Council, who worked with the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) in staging a campaign to oust the Yingluck Shinawatra government, started the sentiment to support Prayut’s extended term. Responding to the move, Prayut did not shut the door on the idea of him staying in power longer than the roadmap timeframe. 
He said he would if “they find a way” to protect him against attacks from critics domestically and internationally.
His supporters have come up with several ways to give him legitimacy – from soliciting signatures for a plebiscite to reform the country first, before calling a general election – to adding a provision in the charter draft to fix the date of a general election after two years.
But Prayut has decided to put an end to this sentiment, calling an informal Cabinet meeting to discuss the handing over of power to the next government, a source said.
Political observers have praised his decisive and far-sighted vision that his supporters failed to come up with.
Prayut’s major concern is opposition from the international community in the West. If he remains in power longer than he had promised, he will face growing pressure from foreign countries and negotiations with the West in many issues may be affected. The country’s economy, which has slowed down, may dive into an economic abyss. The foreign community has maintained economic relations with Thailand because it hopes the Prayut government keeps its word over the roadmap to democracy.
Locally, Prayut realises he not only has people who support him, but also has opponents who remain silent because they expect Prayut to keep his promise to return power to the people.
If Prayut extends his roadmap to democracy, the silent power may not keep silent any more. The living testimony was seen in our political history when former prime minister Suchinda Kraprayoon, a retired general, plotted his way to power on a series of broken promises to “restore a still-fragile democracy”.
The pro-democracy movement demanded the resignation of an unelected Suchinda government, leading to the May 1991 bloodshed.
It is not surprising that the prime minister hears the thundering voice of his supporters since his opponents |either choose not to make any noise |or they have been deprived of the right to voice any opposition.
Critics can always question the motive of Prayut’s supporters over whether they are staging a campaign to support Prayut to remain in power with honest intent to help the country, or whether for their own vested interest.
Some who are connected with the PDRC made their way to become members of the National Reform Council. If the Prayut government continues in power longer, they can also work for more time in their posts.
For Prayut to have a graceful exit or to honourably remain in power, the PM must listen to both his supporters and opponents and exercise his judgement prudently.

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