The continued rise of Captain Thamanat even after explosive allegations about him emerged in September 2019 in an Australian newspaper tells us a lot about the capability and determination of the Deputy Minister of Agriculture who is now tasked with nothing less than a mission to return the government to power in the next General Election in his role as party secretary-general.
The ruling government party is targeting no less than 200 MPs after the next General Election seeking to become the largest in the country. It is also targeting at least 60 defections from the current largest political group in the House of Representatives, Pheu Thai. This, some reports suggest, is part of the strategy to win the next election and return current Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha to his role for a third term, his second at the head of a democratically elected administration.
The ruling Palang Pracharat Party has elected the controversial Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives, Captain Thamanat Prompow, as its secretary-general in a move seen as signalling the start of a major nationwide initiative to organise the party across the country as it sets its sights on commanding a majority of seats in the House of Representatives after the next election.
Last week, the Prime Minister, General Prayut, suggested that there will be no early election in Thailand as he vowed that his government will serve its full term right into 2023.
However many economic and political analysts suggest that if there is an early upturn in the economy that the canny PM may opt for a 2022 election but only if he considers the situation and the level of support in the country ripe for victory.
If he were to be successful it would be General Prayut’s third term in power and second time leading a democratically elected government.
Senate’s powers after the next General Election under Section 272, one senator calls for reform
At the same time, a battle is taking place within the House of Representatives where the opposition and some coalition parties have banded together to push for constitutional reform and in particular the removal of Section 272, a move which most members of the upper house this week came out against promising to defeat such a provision in any vote.
Nonetheless, on Saturday last, Senator Wanchai Sornsiri, who has been known as a champion of constitutional reform, even urging the government to respond positively to the demands of street protests in the last 12 months, said he would support the removal of the Senate’s controversial right to vote for prime minister which, in itself, expires naturally under the terms of the existing charter in 2024.
‘I reiterate my stance for moves to switch off the Senate’s power in the selection of a prime minister regardless of other senators’ opinions,’ the 68-year-old Bangkok based lawyer and Chairman of the Committee on Human Rights, Liberties and Consumer Protection affirmed.
He pointed out that if any party or coalition fails to win a majority in the House of Representatives and managed to form a government with the support of the Senate, then such a government would not last more than 3 months.
PM is still the favourite for the job although the Palang Pracharat Party lags in the polls
On Sunday last, an opinion poll conducted by telephone for the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) showed that the two main opposition parties Pheu Thai and Move Forward commanded 34% of the vote while both the Palang Pracharat Party and the Democrat Party combined had only 20.24% with the Bhumjaithai Party on a lowly 2.43%.
Palang Pracharat had only 10.7% support.
The Prime Minister, General Prayut, led the poll as the preferred choice for government leader at 19.32% but was followed by Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan at 13.34% and the leader of the Seri Ruam Thai Party Police General Sereepisuth Temiyaves on 8.71%.
Khunying Sudarat was the candidate for Prime Minister of the main opposition party, Pheu Thai, in the 2019 General Election but parted company with it in 2020 to form her own political grouping with reports of factional differences.
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan reelected as party leader unopposed at a meeting in Khon Kaen
In Khon Kaen, a key city in northern Thailand, on Friday last, at a general assembly of the Palang Pracharat, the leader of the party, installed last June, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan was reelected without opposition after briefly stepping down as leader, by 582 votes.
The cabinet minister, former army chief and close ally of the prime minister did not attend the meeting but visited the province and met key players at a local hotel before returning to Bangkok.
The meeting then endorsed Captain Thamanat as second in command as he took over the reins as Secretary-general of Palang Pracharat with 556 votes after Mr Anucha Nakasai stepped down from the post.
Captain Thamanat’s rise comes despite bombshell news in 2019 linking him with a drug smuggling case in Australia in the 1990s and a prison term
The continued elevation of Captain Thamanat whose position came under intense and critical scrutiny in September 2019 when the Australian newspaper, The Sydney Morning Herald, published a bombshell story revealing the minister had been jailed in Australia in the 1990s after being convicted on charges linked to a heroin smuggling plot.
Thamanat gets the all-clear from the Constitutional Court in relation to Australian drug allegations
Despite this, the minister managed to hold onto his job and was somewhat redeemed in May when the Constitutional Court ruled that he was not prohibited from holding his positions both as an MP or minister under the constitution since he was not convicted in a Thai court of law as would be required to trigger provisions under Section 98 and Section 160 of the 2017 charter.
A survivor and recognised as quite capable
In the immediate aftermath of the 2019 revelations, the minister’s position in parliament appeared tenuous but Captain Thmanat is recognised as being extraordinary capable and has since worked his way back to being a highly influential figure with his grasp of detail at local level in the kingdom which, it is suggested, has led to several notable by-election wins for the party over the past two years.
The minister is seen as a man who can get things done and is also a wealthy one with declared assets of approximately ฿1 billion including a Rolls Royce and Bentley car.
Promises a less divisive era in the Palang Pracharat Party as he undertakes his new leadership role
When asked about the prospects for his new leadership role in the party after his victory on Friday, the controversial politician rejected a suggestion by a reporter that this was his first job but intimated that it was the start of a new, less divisive era.
‘My first job? I’ll have to think about that but we’ll move forward as a party,’ the minister retorted. ‘Some people see us as divisive but that will be a thing of the past.’
Speculation on a more senior cabinet position
Over last weekend, there was speculation that Captain Thamanat may be on the verge of being made a senior or full minister in government although, earlier, General Prawit had dismissed any links between the selection of the new party leadership and cabinet roles in the government.
It was however made clear by both the party leader and its new secretary-general, Captain Thamanat, that this is about positioning the ruling party to win the next general election.
Speculation on the future of the Sam Mitr group and in particular Justice Minister Somsak Thepsuthin
In Khon Kaen, there was considerable speculation about the position of the Sam Mitr group of members of whom Justice Minister Somsak Thepsuthin is a leading light.
The group left the meeting early but the senior cabinet minister later endorsed the new leadership of the party and put his weight behind it.
‘I’m willing to support the party. The internal revamp is to prepare the party for the election and it is the party’s best hope of winning,’ he said.
The Sam Mitr (Three Allies) group has been considerably weakened in terms of cabinet seats since the new leadership of the Palang Pracharat Party under General Prawit came to power in June last year and the subsequent cabinet reshuffle.
High expectations for the new second in command of the ruling party as an election is due by 2023
It is reported that the election of Captain Thamanat as the second in command of the ruling party comes with high expectations that the experienced and proven political organiser and fixer will deliver for General Prawit as party leader and ultimately for the Prime Minister, General Prayut.
The key goal is to transform the Palang Pracharat Party into the country’s largest political grouping, overtaking Pheu Thai when the country goes to the polls, something that could happen either in 2022 or later in 2023.
It is rumoured that the main opposition party may lose some of its MPs to the government or become ‘cobras’ with a target of 60 MPs to make the switch.
The ultimate goal is to secure at least 200 seats in the House of Representatives for the Palang Pracharat Party when the results are counted after the next General Election from the current base of 122 MPs.