Stinging criticism from former Pheu Thai strategist Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan and ex-Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra will be aired by the media but it is the organising on the ground by the Palang Pracharat Party over the last few years that should be looked at and the constitutional provisions which suggest that a government led by Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha will be formed in 2023 if not before that after the country has emerged successfully from the virus challenge. The current political situation has led many younger, urban and educated Thais to seriously consider emigration as an option in recent months.

On the 7th anniversary of the 2014 coup and with the country facing a financial and public health crisis, there is every reason to believe that Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha is on course to be re-elected Prime Minister of Thailand in 2023 if not before. Over the weekend, former Pheu Thai strategist, Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan, a former minister, Bangkok MP and now leader of the newly formed Thai Srang Thai Party, used the occasion to castigate the current government as a ‘flop’ while a ministry spokesman hit back by pointing to international surveys and credit rating agencies which have endorsed the kingdom. 

2014-coup-leader-prayut- is-likely-next-PM
Prayut Chan ocha has been Prime Minister since May 2014 following a coup d’état but was elected to the position on the 5th June 2019 by parliament and was sworn in before His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn on July 16th 2019 following the March 24th 2019 General Election under the 2017 Constitution. Given the provisions of that charter and the current political situation, even with the virus crisis, the PM is likely to be re-elected to the role before the 24th May 2024 or more likely in 2023.

The anniversary of the coup has drawn a scathing critique of the government from the leader of the newly formed Thai Srang Thai Party, Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan, who was formerly chief strategist with Pheu Thai and during the 2019 election, the public face of Thailand’s largest party as it campaigned especially in Bangkok.

The 60-year-old former MP with an MBA and a graduate of Chulalongkorn University had only joined Pheu Thai in 2018 but served as a senior minister in successive governments led by Thaksin Shinawatra and before that in a government led by former Democrat leader and now Parliament President and House of Representatives Speaker Chuan Leekpai.

New party leader Sudarat accused the government of borrowing ฿14 trillion, a figure higher than that projected by the government even after new loan

On Saturday, she accused the government of wasting opportunities and squandering the kingdom’s resources. She claimed that the public debt level in Thailand was 89.4% of GDP at ฿14 trillion, a level far higher than official figures.

She described General Prayut’s government as being a flop.

‘In seven years in office, Prayut has spent ฿20.8 trillion in state budgets and borrowed ฿4.9 trillion, sending public debt through the roof at a record ฿14 trillion, or 89.3% of GDP,’ Khunying Sudarat declared. ‘The administration flops in every dimension. I feel sorry for the lost opportunities of Thais.’

Economic picture continues to darken as cabinet approves new ฿700 billion loan to plug the gap of higher deficits

This week, the government and Ministry of Finance announced that it would borrow ฿700 billion over the coming months bringing the kingdom’s official public debt to 59% of GDP or ฿9.8 trillion.

Ex-PM Yingluck Shinawatra asks Thais if Prayut has delivered on his promise in seven years of rule 

The government was also the subject of a broadside from former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra who was elected by a landslide in 2011 and ousted by a Constitutional Court decision weeks before the 2014 coup toppled the democratically led government led by the Pheu Thai Party.

‘Seven years after the coup has been a period when the country and Thai people lost development opportunities,’ Ms Yingluck wrote in a Facebook message to the Thai public. ‘Has General Prayut fulfilled his promise of returning happiness to the people?’

Authorities making progress in the virus crisis with a plan to reopen the kingdom still on track

The government, currently engaged in the battle against the Covid-19 virus and a campaign to vaccinate the population has been also responding to the criticism on the anniversary of the coup.

There are reports that it expects to have key provinces surrounding Bangkok fully vaccinated by August while it is also pushing ahead with its plans to reopen the country to foreign tourism by the end of the year with Phuket reopening on July 1st and 9 key tourist hotspots open by October 1st with a full return to normal in 2022.

Government spokesman defends its performance by pointing to international surveys and credit ratings

Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri, on Sunday, pointed to recent international surveys which showed Thailand is one of the best places in the world to begin a startup business and to recent credit agency reports from Moody’s, Fitch and Standard and Poors which have maintained a BBB+ rating for the kingdom and emphasised the stability and strength of the country’s financial system.

Economy can weather the storm caused by third virus wave downturn no matter how rough it gets

Mr Anucha also pointed to a report from a Japanese credit agency in Tokyo, Japan Credit Rating Agency Ltd (JCR), which explained in detail its confidence in Thailand’s ability to weather the current challenge and storm brewed by the virus crisis.

Coup that was presented as a fait accompli after a meeting at the Bangkok Army Club in 2014 brought stability and was later approved of by opinion polls

Saturday saw the anniversary of the bloodless 2014 coup in Thailand staged by the military and led by then army chief General Prayut Chan ocha amid turmoil with rival street protests in Bangkok.

Many Thais and indeed foreigners living in the kingdom welcomed the coup that day. Most submitted to what was presented as a fait accompli following a meeting between the army chief and rival protest leaders at the Army Club in Bangkok.

It brought the kingdom and in particular the capital city back from the brink of what appeared to be increasing anarchy with roads and streets closed across the city.

Public opinion polls conducted up to 2019 showed majority support for the 2014 coup on the basis that it brought back some semblance of harmony to the country after bitter colour-coded divisions were seen between 2005 and 2014.

Military junta introduced a new constitution which was put in place in 2017 after a controlled vote

The coup was followed by the National Council for Peace and Order or military junta which ruled with extraordinary powers for over 5 years leading to a tightly controlled constitutional referendum vote in August 2016 which approved the constitution inaugurated in 2017.

Campaigning and commentary against the proposed constitution were limited by the junta.

Two years later, in 2019, Thailand held its first election under the new charter with an election law that favoured smaller parties and significantly diluted the representation in parliament of the former ruling party Pheu Thai.

Under the 2017 constitution, Section 272, the election of a Prime Minister in parliament must be undertaken by a quorum of both houses of the legislature including the elected House of Representatives and a selected Senate for a period of five years following the sitting of the first parliament which was formally opened by King Maha Vajiralongkorn on the 24th May 2019.

General Election highly likely before 2024 or in 2023 which the current PM should win as things stand

This means that it is highly likely that an election will take place in Thailand in 2023 or, at the latest, early 2024 although the former is far more likely.

It is also an election that the ruling government Palang Pracharat Party has every chance of winning.

The governing party has scored some well-orchestrated by-election wins in different and strategically important parts of the country over the past year in spite of street protests in Bangkok led by student activists which do not necessarily represent the views of the average Thai voter.

By-election wins in recent times augur well for the Palang Pracharat Party’s chances of retaining power

There are reports that the Palang Pracharat Party has been organising on the ground in key constituencies throughout Thailand led by able organisers such as controversial Deputy Agriculture Minister, Thamanat Prompow.

Thamanat gets the all-clear from the Constitutional Court in relation to Australian drug allegations

Under the provisions, including Section 272, until 2024 the sitting Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha would again be likely to emerge as his own successor for a second time. 

The only limiting factor in the way of the Prime Minister is that he cannot serve in his current capacity for more than eight years under Section 158 but this would likely be held to have only commenced in July 2019 under the new legal provision or constitution.

A cohort of young people consider emigration

Of course, failure to control the virus or a resurgence of viral street protests on the streets before an election in either 2023 or late 2022 may foil the government’s plans but right now, that looks unlikely.

Indeed it is this conclusion that has led many younger, educated and urban Thais to consider emigrating from the kingdom as an option in recent months as the political situation appears impervious to change or pressure from the ground.

This cohort of Thais believes that the country lacks democratic accountability and are, in fact, part of a movement that extends beyond Thailand’s borders into other countries in Southeast Asia.

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Further reading:

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PM left master of the field as constitutional reform moves stall with street protests quieted

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Thailand seeks less rancour as it counts down to its first election under the new Constitution

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