New cabinet, once it is sworn in, will replace the National Council for Peace and Order which has been in power since 2014. It is also reported that the loyal and close ally of the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuman, a lynchpin of the outgoing order, may not join the cabinet or the government but take up a role as an advisor. One veteran Muslim politician, this week, predicted that the new government will last a little over one year and even raised the prospect of another coup in the future if the political situation falls apart.
Thailand is on the verge of a new government being formed following its return to democracy. What should be a moment to celebrate seems anything but as the country’s political situation appears more divided than ever. The incoming government will see the exit of the National Council for Peace and Order and with it, the authority that has at least kept Thailand stable and peaceful for five years. It is already being predicted that the new government will not be long-lasting with one veteran and experienced politician even suggesting that another coup could be the end result of a government which is unwieldy, weak and faces a newly unified opposition dedicated not only to opposing the government but to pulling down the 2017 constitution and holding the Prime Minister to account for his actions during the 2014 coup. The Prime Minister is also reported to be finally crossing the Rubicon to become a fully-fledged political party leader, a move which will commit him to the full thrust of politics and possibly expose him to legal perils in the future.
The Thai Prime Minister, newly elected to the role by democratic mandate, will this week finalise his cabinet. The reported decision to honor the deals brokered with the Democrat and Bhumajaithai parties and their demands for key economic ministries is an indication of how politics will be conducted in a Thai government that will now operate in a very much changed environment to that of the last five years.
Prayut’s journey from army coup leader to PM and now a democratic Prime Minister
After the new government is formed and comes to power, the Prime Minister will finally complete his transition from an army general who led the 2014 coup to a fully-fledged politician and democratically elected Premier.
It is reported that Prayut Chan-ocha will also formally become a member of the Palang Pracharat party that nominated him as the prime minister.
Up until now, the Thai prime minister has adopted a more aloof and cautious position.
Prime Minister now predicted to become political party leader after the government is formed
Sources suggest that the current leader of the Palang Pracharat party, Uttama Savanayana, will hand the prime minister a party membership application form in the coming weeks and that this will be followed by a special party assembly next month to confirm the Prime Minister as leader of the party.
It is not clear if the current Secretary General, Sontirat Sontijirawong will continue in his role or not.
Some reports have suggested that Palang Pracharat party MP, Nataphol Teepsuwan, who represents a Bangkok district, may become the new secretary general.
Risky strategy of up to now canny leader
This strategy and plan represent a considerable risk for the up-to-now, canny leader.
His involvement as a political party leader will place on him considerable responsibility. It will also open him up to a wide of range of legal perils created by the 2017 Constitution and legal provisions governing the conduct of political parties as well as the role of politicians.
It is also, some say, a situation that is being forced upon the Prime Minister by a combination of the constitutional provisions and his need to maintain the parliamentary discipline of the new government.
It is reported that the current Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam has warned of the dangers that such a move exposes the prime minister to.
Opposition is moving into a new gear with as it plans taking its work outside parliament
It comes as the seven party opposition alliance appears to have found a new sense of confidence as politics returns to normal. The alliance came together this week at the Pheu Thai party headquarters to discuss plans to reach out to the Thai public and people outside parliament. The overarching objective is to campaign for changes to the 2017 constitution and significantly, the role of the senate which was appointed by a select panel and is dominated by the Thai military.
Prayut now seems set on a fully democratic path to becoming a fully-fledged politician
In fact, the Senate maintains significant powers under the new constitution.
There are some within the establishment who feel that the prime minister should not move towards becoming a regular politician and work the constitution while standing above the fray of politics.
This does not now appear to be the course that Prayut is taking. For better or worse, it appears that the prime minister is gambling that he can win over the Thai public and control a parliament currently galvanised by the opposition and in which, he has the slimmest of majorities imaginable in the lower house where the day-to-day business will be done.
Prime Minister finds himself in far weaker position
Prayut’s new democratic mandate, while lauded by the international community for representing a return to democracy in Thailand, leaves him in a far weaker position.
It is also clear that his moves towards keeping faith with democracy will not win him any new support among the opposition.
Thai politics has shifted back to two polarised factions
Thailand’s politics, in the last week of the March 24th election campaign and even more so since the results were announced, is moving back again towards polarisation.
There has also been a strong ground swell of public opinion against the role of the Senate and the provisions of the 2017 constitution.
School children joined the political debate
Last week, floral presentations by a number Thai school students in annual ‘Wai Khru’ events where students offer thanks to Thai teachers, led to some embarrassing anti-junta-themed displays which garnered media attention.
Students in schools in Nong Khai province in Thailand’s northeast and Phitsanulok province in the northern region stunned the media with representations of guns and displays which directly commented on the political situation concerning the military junta and the role of the newly empowered Thai Senate in politics.
Deputy PM Wongsuwan suspected political subterfuge was behind the school children’s actions
Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister and security point man, Prawit Wongsuwan, was not buying it. He believed that other forces were at work behind the story. He suggest that actors were either manipulating school children or leading them in the wrong direction. ‘I believe there is someone behind this. How could the kids come up with this idea by themselves? I don’t know who they are. We have to investigate first, but we also have to respect their freedom of expression,’ he said. Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister for Security Affairs found it hard to accept that the pupil’s expression of dismay with the current state of politics was spontaneous.
Opposition groups to target the PM personally for his role in the 2014 coup
It is also reported that the opposition is intent on targeting the Thai prime minister in the new parliament. They plan to demand scrutiny of his role in the 2014 coup. The Future Forward party has always underlined its determination to pursue this course but they are now being joined by other politicians and parties in pursuit of this theme. The Pheu Thai party has since the opening of the political campaigning leading to the recent election, set out its stall in opposition to the Thai military establishment.
Muslim party leader opposes the 2017 constitution
Wan Noor, a long-serving Muslim politician and former House Speaker, is the leader of the Pracharat Party.
His party is also seeking to oppose the new political dispensation and demanding changes to the 2017 Constitution as part of its political work within the new parliament.
Veteran political leader also critical of the Prime Minister as the former leader of a coup
Like other parties, he sees the 2017 charter as representing the continued involvement of the military in political affairs and the government of the kingdom. He specifically intends to question the prime minister in parliament in relation to his role in the May coup of 2014. ‘I remember well what the then army chief said on May 22, 2014, when he staged the coup. I will ask him about what he did at that time. He doesn’t deserve to be prime minister today,’ the veteran Muslim leader told The Nation newspaper in Bangkok this week.
Prediction that new government will be short-lived
Mr Noor also predicted that the new government, now being finalised, will not last for long. He is the leader of the Muslim-dominated Prachachart Party which derives its support in the south of Thailand and which has a range of connections to ex-Thai Premier Thaksin Shinawatra. The party won seven seats in the lower House of Representatives in the March 24th election.
Wrangling of cabinet portfolios was telling, showed weakness of the government at the outset
Wan Noor believes the recent wrangling over cabinet portfolios between the Bhumjaithai and Democrat parties and groups within the core government Palang Pracharat party displayed last week the weakness of the position that the new prime minister now finds himself in. He believes that the new government will struggle to govern the lower house of parliament. ‘The government may be at risk of losing important votes in the lower house, or at least failing to form a quorum,’ he said this week.
Government will last a little over a year: prediction
He has predicted the this new government will last a little over a year and even raised the prospect of another army coup or military intervention in the future.
He has predicted that the new Prime Minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, will struggle to manage his unwieldy coalition of 19 political parties.
He points out that the dissolution of the junta or the National Council for Peace and Order will greatly weaken the de facto authority of the newly elected Thai prime minister and this weakness will swell as political machinations take their course both within and without the newly minted government.
At some point of a crisis, there is always the danger of military intervention.
Need for the opposition to adopt exemplary conduct
The Muslim leader has urged opposition groups to lead by exemplary conduct and to be wary of any actions which could be labelled as corrupt or which may subsequently be used as a pretext for a coup.
His party is working with the Pheu Thai party-led alliance of seven parties which is now coordinating an opposition movement aiming to connect with the people both through the parliamentary process and activities outside of parliament
Opposition opening up grassroots links with online groups but strongly rules out street protests
This comes as opposition party leaders announced a working group to seek the participation of the people at a grassroots level both to oppose the new Thai government and to demand the reform or abolition of the 2017 constitution.
The new working group is not to be interpreted as a call for street protests.
This was particularly underlined, this week, by Chaithawat Tulathon who is the Deputy Secretary General of the Future Forward party which is vehemently opposed both to the constitution and the role of the Thai military in politics.
Future Forward executive talks of a consensus being built among disparate groups to oppose both the government and the 2017 constitution
The Future Forward party executive outlined a vision of the parties working together to build a democratic consensus across Thai society peacefully standing in opposition to the political order created by the 2017 constitution. The party aims to make contact with political organizations which have sprung up online in Thailand and which generally advance the cause of a ‘fair’ Thai society.
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit is rumoured to be in retreat as new political age dawns
As if to emphasise the advent of a new era, it is also being reported that Thailand’s influential and controversial Deputy Prime Minister, Prawit Wongsuwan, who has served as Defence Minister and Security Affairs supremo in the current government, may be considering his position in the new line up.
The Deputy Prime Minister is known to be one of the Prime Minister’s most loyal supporters and friends.
However, in recent times, the 73-year-old has been reported to be suffering from ill health.
Role of Advisor to the Prime Minister
It had been speculated that this close and loyal ally to Prayut Chan-ocha would continue to serve as Deputy Prime Minister while the Prime Minister would also serve as Defense Minister as well as PM in the new government. Now, reports suggest that Prawit is considering a more limited and low-key role as an advisor to the prime minister as he focuses on recovering his health.
Fiery and outspoken junta member was a key lynchpin in the previous order
The fiery and outspoken member of the junta and the previous government is reported to be not relishing dealing with a parliament where he is very likely to face an onslaught of invective as the opposition gears up to criticise the Prime Minister and the new government because of its previous links to the military.
Deputy Prime Minister Wongsuwan has been a lynchpin in that previous order commanding the trust of many senior army officers and even having oversight of a panel which selected the 250-member upper house of the senate.
At that time, Deputy Prime Minister Wongsuwan himself declined to take a seat in that body and it was thought that he was looking forward to playing a role in the new government.
Had heart surgery in Switzerland two years ago
The Deputy Prime Minister is reported to have had heart bypass surgery in Switzerland two years ago and there are reports that his work with the regime over the last five years has led to him neglecting his now frail health. One press report this week suggested that Prawit has been left exhausted after five years in government up to now.