By THE NATION
JUNTA CHIEF General Prayut Chan-o-cha and anti-junta politician Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit will lock horns for the top government post today.
The anti-junta bloc made its final decision and confirmed yesterday that Thanathorn was |eligible to be their prime minister candidate – despite the charter court suspending him from MP duties – after weeks of deliberations over four possible candidates.
Three of the possible candidates – Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan, Chadchart Sittipunt and Chaikasem Nitisiri – were from the core coalition leader Pheu Thai Party while Thanathorn is the leader of Future Forward Party.
Prayut, however, is expected to sail through easily with the pro-junta bloc having secured a majority 254 MPs, including those from key swing parties Democrat and Bhumjaithai.
Democrat Party yesterday decided at the last minute to join the Phalang Pracharat-led coalition.
At an intra-party vote, 61 supported joining the coalition while 16 voted against it. Two members abstained from voting and one ballot was voided.
Meanwhile, Pheu Thai, which has the most number of MPs in the anti-junta bloc |following the March 24 general election, had earlier given way to the bloc’s second-biggest player in terms of number of MPs, in an attempt to woo votes from the Democrat Party in the PM contest.
A number of Democrat MPs had been reluctant to vote for Prayut because of his status as a coup leader. Prayut led the coup which toppled an elected government in 2014.
It is widely believed that MPs from outside the bloc will not support a Pheu Thai PM nominee.
Pheu Thai secretary-general Phumtham Wechayachai said at a press conference yesterday that the party was trying to keep its promise that it would not hanker for any political position and would dedicate its post-election efforts to rooting the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) out of politics.
The decision to field Thanathorn against Prayut today |encountered some opposition within Pheu Thai.
Northeastern MPs of the party believe that Pheu Thai should support its own candidate, especially the party’s de facto leader Khunying Sudarat.
They argued that Sudarat was the reason why Pheu Thai had won the most number of MPs in the March election. She had been highlighted as the party’s face in the election campaign and the MPs did not know how to explain it to the voters if Sudarat did not represent the party in the PM contest, they argued.
Defeat ‘imminent’ for anti-junta bloc
The bloc leader, however, also admitted to possible defeat in both government formation and the PM contest.
Phumtham said the current state of affairs stemmed from flawed laws and regulations that would create an unstable |government.
Though the pro-junta camp could count on Senate support to secure the PM post, proceedings in Parliament would still be paralysed.
Such an outcome reflected the ambition of the powers that be to retain political power through the constitutional mechanism, the veteran politician said. There was no national interest in it, he added.
Pheu Thai senior figure Chusak Sirinin also admitted that whoever was fielded by the anti-junta bloc for today’s contest would not be successful. Now the camp was focused on keeping the 246 MPs united as a pro-democracy front, he said.
Chusak also believed that the meeting today could drag on with extensive debates over the Senate’s role in the election and |qualifications of the candidates.
It was also possible that no conclusion would be reached, he said.
Amid calls that PM candidates should outline their vision for the country before the vote, Thanathorn would stand by at the meeting venue in case he had to share his vision even though he has been suspended as an MP.
Prayut, meanwhile, will stay away, saying he has said enough in the past five years.