The extension of Thailand’s emergency decree and a ban on all inbound passenger flights does not mean that lockdown restrictions may not be eased selectively in May. It is a signal that the government is being cautious and making public health the priority. Today’s move comes with reports of a political heave being led against the main government party leader and Finance Minister Uttama Savanayana led by the powerful and wily Deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan.
Thailand extended the emergency decree and state of emergency on Monday for another month alongside a continued ban on incoming passenger flights. It comes as there are stirrings of political intrigue and movement within the coalition government’s main political party in anticipation of a cabinet reshuffle after the crisis has eased.
Thailand has extended its state of emergency decree which was due to expire on April 30th.
Today’s move simply means that the emergency powers vested in the Prime Minister Prayuth Chan ocha and the Covid 19 centre stay in place as do any provisions or orders made by that body.
Separately, Thailand also extended its ban on inward passenger flights from any foreign country until May 31st.
Move announced on Monday by Covid 19 centre spokesman Dr Taweesilp Visanuyothin
This move today which was announced by the Covid 19 spokesman Dr Taweesilp Visanuyothin, does not mean that decisions on easing the extent and nature of the lockdown situation may not take place moving forward into May.
This is probably likely on a selective and gradual basis with some refinements and changes coming from provincial authorities.
However, given the experience and increased caution being seen in other countries as the danger and unpredictable nature of this virus continues to emerge, Thai authorities must be wary against it.
In spite of relatively low numbers of deaths and infections in the kingdom, this virus has proved itself a formidable foe and one not to be underestimated.
Curfew and travel restrictions remain in place
For now, the curfew remains in place as do all other measures including the ban on social gatherings, alcohol sales and restrictions on interprovincial travel which have seen extensive checkpoints throughout Thailand since March 26th last.
Meeting chaired by the PM
Today’s decisions followed a meeting between the Prime Minister and all relevant agencies to review the situation as Thailand’s number of infections on Monday was in single digits and hospitalisations reached another record low.
The meeting, chaired by the PM, did address the heavy impact of the decree on society, the economy and people’s lives.
This was balanced out by increasing evidence of the need for restrictions against the virus until a vaccine or alternative remedy is found.
Survey of public opinion supported the extension
Dr Taweesilp revealed to the press that a survey conducted by the National Security Council indicated public support for an extension of the extraordinary measures.
Political moves afoot ahead of a cabinet reshuffle
The ongoing emergency is also the backdrop to behind the scene political manoeuvres within the ruling Palang Pracharat Party.
This is because members of the government anticipate a reshuffle of the Thai cabinet in the aftermath of the crisis.
Media sources are suggesting that Thailand’s canny Deputy Prime Minister, Prawit Wongsuwan, who is currently without a portfolio but in charge of security matters, is ready to make a move to become the leader of the party which he joined last year as a key strategist.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, the Deputy PM would only reply: ‘Nothing’s happened yet.’
Heave against the Finance Minister and leader of the Palang Pracharat party Uttama Savanayana
It is being reported that the position of the leader of Palang Pracharat and the Finance Minister in the current government, Uttama Savanayana, is in the crosshairs of the political heave.
Party, say some observers, needs to be consolidated
The reason touted for the heave is that the party needs to be reorganised and consolidated as a more coherent force.
Political observers have described the Palang Pracharat Party which emerged as the largest party by popular vote and the second by seat in parliament in the March 2019 election, as an amalgamation of factions.
These moves are aimed at streamlining and strengthening the party to fight future political battles.
The party achieved 23.34% of the popular vote last year but only 116 seats while Pheu Thai, the main opposition political party, achieved 136 seats with less than 22% of the vote.
Unfinished business from cabinet selection process last year coming back to haunt the government
More cynical observers, however, suggest that the current moves have more to do with righting wrongs and slights after last year’s election. The subsequent government formation process in the summer saw Prime Minister Prayuth Chan ocha make some hard decisions to put together a working cabinet and government that was always destined to be unwieldy.
Technocrat group led by Deputy PM Somkid Jatusripitak is now one faction within the party
At present, one key faction within the Palang Pracharat Party is comprised of technocrats centred around Deputy PM and Economic Czar Somkid Jatusripitak.
Another faction is the Sam Mitr group (Three allies) of former ministers with power bases from previous Thai governments who joined the party before last year’s election.
These include key leaders Somsak Thepsuthin, the Thai Minster of Justice and Suriya Juangroongruangkit, the current Minister of Industry.
The remnants of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee or PRDC which fermented the 2014 protests and an eventual coup is another faction.
A key leader here is Minster of Education, Nataphol Teepsuwan.
Then there are former Pheu Thai MPs who also joined the party in the run-up to last years election who are another key political force.
Current Finance Minister served under General Prayuth in the previous military government
The current Finance Minister, Uttama Savanayana, comes from a small group of ministers who served under General Prayuth as Prime Minster in the military government from 2014 to 2019.
These also include Sontirat Sontijirawong, the Energy Minister, Suvit Maesincee, the Minister of Higher Education and Kobsak Pootrakool who works at the Office of the Prime Minister.
Deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan wants to lead Palang Pracharat and play a more active role
Reports suggest that Deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan has been trying to get the Finance Minister to relinquish his role as party leader but that he has stoutly resisted such moves.
The Deputy PM, who was sidelined last year because of health issues, now clearly sees himself in a more active role.
This has led to moves against the party executive to have the leader removed.
The Finance Minister alluded to the moves in recent days when he told a Thai media source: ‘No phuyai (local political chief or boss) has called to ask me to resign from the party executive but I’m aware there have been such talks.’
Factions within the ruling party taking shape
The heave against Mr Uttama has led to new factions within the party as General Prawit is reported to command support from former PRDC stalwarts such as the Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan and also among former Pheu Thai MPs as well as the influential MP, parliamentary fixer and junior minister at the Ministry of Agriculture, Thamanat Prompow.
The Deputy PM also has the support of many other provincial MPs notably in Chonburi province.
The heightened tensions have seen the Sam Mitr group of ministers coalesce around the technocratic team of Deputy PM Somkid.
Prawit wants to be Interior Minster
Some reports suggest that Deputy PM Prawit would like to become Interior Minister, a position which has long been held by fellow former army chief, General Anupong Paochinda, since August 2014.
The same reports suggest current Deputy Finance Minister Santi Prompat being elevated to the top job at that department, Mr Nataphol moving from the Education Ministry to Energy and the Chairman of the party MPs, Suchart Chomklin, becoming Minister of Higher Education.