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The strongest criticism yet directed at the Thai Prime Minister as he is reported to be calculating a move into politics. The extraordinary strict new electoral laws and powers of Thailand’s election commission are a key consideration as his name has been associated with the new Phalang Pracharat Party. The new party is placed second in the polls but will draw fire from an increasingly unified opposition, who although they face an uphill battle, are buoyed by the return to the cut and thrust of political activities.

As Thailand enters into a new year with a planned election in February, what will hopefully be the first conclusive contest since 2011, political hostilities have commenced between the opposing sides. Things are now set to spiral into a new gear. The Prime Minister, Prayut Cha-ocha, who is expected to be a candidate for his current role after the election, has come under scathing and biting criticism from a former cabinet colleague. His difficulty, navigating the tricky waters between being an incumbent in office and being reported as possibly, soon to be affiliated with a political party, while presiding over an election campaign, strictly governed by very demanding electoral laws, is becoming more pressing. The opposition has been quick to pounce.

Thailand’s incumbent Prime Minister, Prayut Chan-ocha, was this week the subject of a scathing and biting attack made by a former cabinet colleague and ex Governor of the Bank of Thailand, Pridiyathorn Devakula. The extraordinary attack ranged from criticism of a perceived cosy relationship with China to the portrayal of mobile meetings of the Thai cabinet across Thailand’s provinces as indirect electioneering. Mr Devakula attacked both Prayut’s style of leadership and substance, concluding that he was unfit to become the next prime minster after the election in February 2019. He also attacked the newly formed Phalang Pracharat Party, labeling it as a vehicle for Prayut’s political ambitions, which he declared were now in full sight. It comes in a week that has seen the new political party embroiled in a new election commission investigation, after a video emerged, which suggesting that local people had to join the new political movement in order to obtain government welfare cards in Yasothon province. The Governor of the province and other officials later explained that this was simply a misunderstanding. A man was arrested and questioned over the matter when it emerged. The video evidence has been taken up by Thailand’s powerful election commission who are looking into the matter to see if a breach of electoral law may have occurred.

Politics has reemerged in Thailand as the military junta has lifted some restrictions to allow open campaigning in the run up to the election on February 24th next. The new dispensation has drawn scathing criticism of the current government and the military regime, elements of which which will stay on to play an important role in the future government of the Kingdom, even after the election next year. However, this was heightened in the last few days as current prime minister and the man tipped to obtain the top job after the election, Prayut Chan-ocha has come under heavy fire, this time not from an opposition party or political campaigner, but a from a former senior member of his cabinet.

New electoral laws imposes onerous responsibilities and need for caution on current Prime Minister with reported political ambitions

The current Prime Minister is playing a very delicately balanced game before, as is expected, he officially catapults himself into the political sphere by declaring for a political party. He has indicated an openness to serve and become a political player while still staying staying above the fray. He has to be careful. Thailand’s new electoral laws, which his government championed and guided into law, mean he must exercise caution in his current position between two different political orders. These laws, which are now monitored and enforced by Thailand’s powerful selection commission, mean that he could find himself in difficulty if he gets the timing wrong or finds himself compromised.

Problem faced by current Thai politics is a basic human instinct to be competitive

The problem is, as Thailand’s current prime minister, that he cannot be seen to be using his position to promote his political position or future, in such a way, that it can be suggested that he is pursuing ‘populist’ policies to win votes. Thailand’s new constitution and electoral laws make an ambitious attempt to counter such an approach. It gave sweeping and wide ranging powers to Thailand’s election commission and constitutional courts to prevent electoral abuses or ‘buying votes’ through government decisions or policies. This was seen as the path taken by previous administrations of Thaksin Shinawatra and successive parties associated with the ex premier, now living in exile. The problem for Prayut, right now, is that he must be careful not to leave any hostages to fortune that could become the subject of future legal challenges. The legal system in Thailand and the powerful electoral laws could be used in the future against any office holder, seen to have influenced an election. The laws impose on future Thai leaders a high bar to attain. It is a duty to administer and govern the country with a view to long term, sustainable progress while rejecting measures, based primarily on short term political gain. A good idea in principle but something that may prove very difficult in reality. The first problem is that it is human nature to be competitive in any area, including politics, the second is the use that can be made by opposing political forces of legal proceedings, especially those determined to thwart those in power, another human instinct.

New laws mean Thai government’s actions are easily open to misinterpretation by cynics

Questions have been raised about the current prime minister’s actions and decisions.This is normal in any democracy but the new laws give such suggestions added weight and threat. The current government has been genuinely pursuing policies to assist Thailand’s poorest and vulnerable but these are being interpreted by critics in a new light. The Prime Minister has been touring the country with his cabinet bringing the country’s government to Thailand’s remoter, rural and poorer regions. What would be a popular initiative in any country is being interpreted, by some, as an effort to use the government to harness votes. The problem is that none is sure how the Thai courts may interpret or adjudicate on any case, taken in the future, on any of these issues. The new constitution and electoral laws are so strong and are quite unlike the law in other countries. The laws and provisions, designed to prevent populist political power, is now being used against the Thai government and political parties associated with it, who championed the new provisions in the first place. It is an irony that is quite typical of Thailand.

PM has warned ministers and the new political party to be circumspect in observing the line between their role in government and election campaign politics

The prime minister is also wary of yet being fully associated with any political party. He has, in some remarks, suggested that the new Phalang Pracharat would be a natural ally for him as it contains many members of his cabinet and people he has worked with. The political party, itself, must be equally circumspect. The laws governing political parties are even more strict and can see a political party dissolved and its leading members barred from politics for an extended period of time on a range of complaints. The prime minister has even warned minsters, who are linked with the new party, that they must be careful to observe the red line between their duty as ministers in the Thai government and their role in politics. Although known for occasional outbursts of anger and color, the Prime Minister, the former head of the Thai army that led the 2014 coup, is a canny political operator.

Find your ThaiLoveLines - Thai Love in Thailand

Thai PM running a precarious political gambit

For the moment, the Thai prime minister must run this difficult political gambit. He is prime minister and reported as the probable candidate of a political party, beginning to sink in recent opinion polls, for the office of Prime Minister after the February 2019 election. As the campaign picks up momentum, with events and meeting at grass roots level throughout Thai society, in the run up the election, the danger of accidents or chance remarks, even if in error, could spell trouble. Every move and statement is being observed by opposing political forces. This happened just this week in Yasothon province when a video emerged that has already prompted an investigation by the election commission into reported efforts, perhaps due to a misunderstanding, by local Phalang Pracharat members, to link party membership with government welfare cards.

Uphill battle for the opposition but they are determined, unified and buoyed right now

Under the current constitution, the opposition parties are fighting an uphill battle. However, they are buoyed by the return of more open politics with the lifting of key restrictions. They now see a myriad ways of challenging, limiting and making trouble for Prayut or the pro government side, while they also still hold out the hope that the shape and color of the next Thai government is still possibly up for grabs. For this, they will need a huge electoral landslide and collapse in support for the pro junta political party. This could well happen with a recent poll giving the party a dismal 5% level of support but within and without Thailand’s capital, Bangkok.

The most scathing criticism of the Prime Minister, so far in the campaign, has come from a former member of his cabinet. In biting remarks, a former Deputy Prime Minister, Pridiyathorn Devakula, has said that he does not think the current government leader is fit to be prime minister of the next Thai government. He has suggested that the current prime minister is too emotional and criticised the soft policy adopted by the government towards China.

Biting and scathing criticism of Prayut by former cabinet minister shows opposition is growing

The former deputy prime minister was as frank as he was damning in his assessment of the current Prime Minister who is running a close second in  polls among the public for the position of PM, after the general election. He suggested that it is now quite obvious that the current PM seeks an extension to his time in power as the leader of the next, democratically elected, Thai government. The ex minister targeted the government’s rolling series of cabinet meetings in different regions and locations through Thailand. He likened such meetings to political campaigning and pointed to restrictions still imposed on other parties. He also suggested that the current government was now pursuing a popular political agenda, warning that the government was using money gathered through taxation, to achieve political advantage. Mr. Devakula is a former Governor of the Bank of Thailand and was formerly an economic minister in Prayut’s first cabinet.

Criticism by former Thai Deputy PM was both personal and substantive and warned of division

The wide ranging attack criticised both Prayut’s personal leadership style and substantive policy decisions. The criticism ranged from condemnation of the treatment of former colleagues to decisions taken by the prime minister that overruled earlier decisions at local and national level. He criticised the vastly increased budgets accorded to Thailand’s transport ministry for mega projects and the defence department for Thailand’s military. The former deputy prime minister categorised the current government as ‘rulers’ and the civilian populations as ‘ruled’. He also warned against a heightened sense of animosity towards the army if the situation was not addressed. The Thai army, despite the propensity for coups in Thailand, is regarded by many Thai people as an important guarantor of stability in the country.

Thai government spokesman defends PM

A theme of his critique was the favoritism shown to Chinese interests in Thailand. The criticism was rejected by a spokesman for the Thai government, Buddhipong Punnakanta. He pointed to the current Thai prime ministers efforts to root out corruption in Thailand and the ‘punishment of any wrong doings.’ Mr. Punnakanta said that Prayut would not be put off by attempts to ‘malign him’ and remained determined to ‘serve the country and the people.’ The spokesman also described the basis for the complaints and arguments made against the current prime minister as due to a misunderstanding of the facts and mistakes made by the former deputy PM.

Former Bank of Thailand Governor: eight reasons why Prayut Cha-ocha should not be the next prime minister after the election

The former Bank of Thailand chief also alluded to the new Phalang Pracharat Party, describing it as a vehicle designed to assist the current prime minister to continue in office after the next election. His lengthy critique delivered eight reasons, he suggested as to why Prayuth Chan-ocha should not lead the country’s next government. The sharp and stinging criticism is the strongest yet against the incumbent prime minister. It brought another government member to come out publicly in support of him. Thailand’s Defence Minister and also Deputy PM, Prawit Wongsuwan, describes the comments made by Mr Devakula as without grounds. He attributed them to a personal animosity between the former ex minister and other colleagues. The Deputy PM said this these animosities developed after the former deputy PM left the government, formed directly after the 2014 coup. ‘He doesn’t like some people personally,’ he quipped.

Political storm over links between Thai welfare cards and political party membership

Meanwhile, a political storm has blown up in Thailand centred on the new Phalang Pracharat Party and claims that it is using its government influence to further its political aims. An investigation by Thailand’s powerful Election Commission is already underway. The controversy centres on a dinner to raise funds for the new political entity. It has been suggested that there was an attempt made to link the issuance of government welfare cards to membership of the new party. There is reported to be video evidence showing some Thai people making the claim that they were being forced to apply for membership of the new Phalang Pracharat Party in order to obtain welfare cards.

The issue has been jumped upon by opposition parties. The investigation underway by the Election Commission into the affair is based on the video evidence. Ruangkrai Leekitwattana, a spokesman for another Thai political party, Thai Raksa Chart, has said that such activity broke the strict electoral laws and could see any party involved disbanded. Mr.Leekitwattana is former member of Pheu Thai, which is currently also under investigation over its links to Thaksin Shinawatra.

Video may be due to misunderstanding as Thai man is arrested and questioned in Yasothon for passing on erroneous information

Meanwhile, it may well be that the affair was the result of misunderstanding. It has been reported that a man, who did indeed tell villagers in Yasothon province last Saturday, that they had to join Phalang Pracharat to obtain a welfare card, has been arrested and questioned over the incident.The Governor of the province later weighed in. He suggested it was a misunderstanding. Nikorn Suksai told the press that officials were distributing welfare cards at a local temple and the following day, this was the site of an election rally for the new party. He confirmed that the election commission was seeking further information. Meanwhile Phalang Pracharat, the new pro junta political party involved, has suggested that the controversy simply demonstrates the success of the party with its popular policies, which the opposition is seeking to undermine.

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