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Prayut plots path to political future

Apr 21. 2018
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By POLITICAL DESK
THE SUNDAY NATION

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AFTER ALMOST four years in power, the ruling junta appears to have strayed tremendously away from its original mission of healing the severe political conflicts that led to the 2014 coup.

Its present main goal, many observers and politicians agree, appears to be ensuring that General Prayut Chan-o-cha comes back as head of government after the next election, which he promised would take place “no later than” February next year. 

In attempting to regain political control after the election, the junta may want to continue with its policies and projects that are still incomplete.

There are two main “formulas” that could help General Prayut come back as prime minister.

First, he could return as an outsider in a second round of parliamentary voting to select the prime minister if the 500-member House of Representatives fails to reach an agreement among the political party candidates. This way, he would need support from all of the 250 junta-appointed senators plus as many MPs as possible, at least 125. Support from half of both Houses – 375 votes – is required. 

Another option is for Prayut to become the prime ministerial candidate for a particular political party. This way, he could be selected as PM in the first round of voting in the Lower House if he gets enough support. However, that party would have to win at least 25 House seats in order to be eligible to nominate a candidate for prime minister.

For the junta, the second one is a “safer” option, as it is possible that the major political parties – Pheu Thai and Democrat – will join forces to try to prevent a second round of voting to select the PM. Whichever way they choose, the junta will need support from politicians. Recent moves by Prayut and other junta figures have indicated that they are extending the hands of friendship to different groups of politicians who collectively have the potential to “make their dream come true”.

Over the past months, the junta leader has met leaders of those political parties and factions on different occasions. Government actions have been taken to benefit those groups, including state funding being injected into their areas of interest and their people being appointed to government jobs. Critics view these moves as “deposits” in exchange for future favours. 

At least eight political factions and small and medium-sized parties have enjoyed “special”, cosy ties with the junta. They are the Sasomsap faction in Pheu Thai Party, the Wang Nam Yom and Baan Rim Nam groups, another group led by former kingmaker Suthep Thaugsuban, as well as Chart Thai Pattana, Phalang Chon, Bhum Jai Thai and Chart Pattana parties. All four parties have a long history of always being coalition-government partners. Those factions and parties are dominant in their local areas or regions, each winning from fewer than 10 to a few dozen House seats in past elections. Yet, together they could easily win more than 100 House seats and would prove helpful to Prayut’s premiership bid – particularly if they join forces with a new political party that appoints the junta leader as its PM candidate. 

Preparations are under way to set up that particular party, which is expected to be led by key members of the government’s economic team, including Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, Industry Minister Uttama Savanayana, and Commerce Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong.

Stithorn Thananithichot, a senior researcher at King Prajadhipok’s Institute, said the junta would need voter support when contesting the election, so it would have to rely on politicians who already have an established support base.

He viewed the recent political appointments as a “good sign” that the election is drawing near.

“It is clear that General Prayut is moving towards the election. Those politicians are going to help the NCPO government with election matters,” the researcher said.

Prayut admitted that the past week’s appointment of Phalang Chon leader Sontaya Kunplome as his adviser was to help him with political matters. Critics expect more similar “political rewards” in the future.

 

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