A key player has emerged at the heart of government at the centre of its struggle to survive during the COVID-19 emergency. Controversial but reputedly highly capable, Captain Thamanat Prompow is, it is being reported, eyeing up the position of Minister of the Interior currently held by one of the three ‘brothers in arms’ at the heart of General Prayut’s regime since he took power in the 2014 coup.
The deteriorating position of the government, facing its darkest moment so far against COVID-19 with a tight financial position and a public experiencing a crisis of confidence, has already seen political tensions emerge along with a key player in its fight for survival, the new Secretary-general of the Palang Pracharat Party, Captain Thamanat Prompow. At the end of the week, it was being speculated that a March 2022 snap general election may be on the cards if the government of Prayut Chan ocha can survive that long.
The government of Prayut Chan ocha has ended a particularly difficult week with a daunting struggle lying ahead of it against the COVID-19 virus. The country posted a record number of deaths from the disease on Saturday with 91 deaths and 9,326 infections.
It has found itself under siege with plummeting levels of popular support, flash mob protests in Bangkok and facing a range of uncomfortable questions not least the perceived mishandling of the country’s vaccination campaign as Bangkok and adjacent provinces enter into a soft lockdown and curfew from Monday which will run from 9 pm to 4 am.
Thamanat according to informed political sources has set his sights on the powerful position of Minister of the Interior held by General Anupong Paochinda
The dangerous position the government has found itself in has already had political ramifications within its ranks as Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan and the newly elected Palang Pracharat Party Secretary-general, Captain Thamanat Prompow, have emerged over the last few days as key and more energised players in the government’s response.
The perceived political weakness of the Prime Minister, at this time, has again exposed tensions between him and the Palang Pracharat Party with reports that Captain Thamanat, currently still a junior minister at the Ministry of Agriculture, has set his sights on the significantly more important and uniquely powerful position of Minister of the Interior.
The current Minister of the Interior is General Anupong Paochinda, the former army chief and one of the three ex-army chiefs, generals or ‘brothers in arms’ who are seen as the backbone of the administration of General Prayut since he took power in the May 2014 coup.
New Palang Pracharat Party Secretary-general at the scene of last week’s huge fire in Samut Prakan near Bangkok coordinating the response to the incident
Last week, there was a huge fire in Bangkok in which a young volunteer firefighter, Kornsit Laophan, was killed and which saw a whole neighbourhood evacuated with over 73 houses damaged before the dangerous conflagration was finally brought under control, over 24 hours later.
It is reported that Captain Thamanat was conspicuous at the scene coordinating the response alongside Samut Prakan’s Governor Wanchai Kongkasem.
It is this nose and instinct for local dynamics and his well-earned reputation for getting things done that has earned the wealthy and highly controversial junior minister his position as a leading player and up and coming figure in the government and national politics.
Palang Pracharat Party is aiming to win the next General Election which looks likely in 2022
Sources within political parties allied with the government were briefing the press in recent days suggesting that the ruling party is considering its political options very seriously at this moment in time.
Since the election of Captain Thamanat in Khon Kaen at the end of June as the number two in the ruling party, it has become clear that the new Secretary-general is ambitious for a more senior cabinet position while his main goal, which has been set for him by the party leader, General Prawit, is nothing less than bringing home a majority of MPs in the next general election which increasingly looks like it will take place in 2022.
In a slew of by-elections, the MP from Phayao in northern Thailand has been an instrumental figure in winning polls by working closely with local officials, activists and significantly, the Ministry of the Interior, which has significant power over local governments and political affairs in the provinces.
Proposed change to the voting system is expected to benefit the ruling party in the next poll
However, sources are clear that even with Captain Thamanat’s undoubted abilities, he needs more time to reorganise the party especially in northern and northeastern Thailand as well as the southern provinces which are key targets for seat gains when the election is called.
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An amendment being sponsored by the Democrat Party, which would change the voting system for the next general election, is also part of the ruling party’s calculations. It anticipates the move will see it potentially gain seats.
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One source has said that Captain Thamanat is aiming at winning 200 seats for the Palang Pracharat Party the next time out.
One alternative is that Prime Minister Prayut will dissolve the coalition and appoint an interim technical government to deal with the COVID-19 crisis
The same political players also make it clear that it will take a lot of political staying power and sheer luck to allow General Prayut to finish his term of office as planned only weeks ago.
One alternative is that the PM may dissolve the coalition government and appoint an interim cabinet of technical specialists to solve the Covid-19 crisis in advance of a general election.
The other option and believed to be favoured by Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, is for the prime minister and the coalition government to bear with the challenge, push on through and then call a snap election in March next year.
The canny former army chief, cabinet minister and the most senior of the three ‘brothers in arms’ then trusts that fortune at the polls will favour the Palang Pracharat Party through a campaign orchestrated by Captain Thamanat.
PM’s political capital has been eroded but it looks like he will try to fight on through the challenges ahead
The political damage inflicted on Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha over the last few weeks since the Delta variant drove an explosion of death and infections has now meant that many observers believe he may not have the political capital and staying power to stay true to his commitment to the Senate on Monday 14th June when he vowed to serve a full term, telling his hardcore supporters in the upper house that political opposition only served to regenerate his determination.
Party insiders within the Palang Pracharat Party were taken aback by a large survey in the popular Thai newspaper, Thai Rath, in recent days showing only 1.8% confidence in the government, a snapshot that caused panic within the corridors of power in Bangkok.
Party strategists are said to be considering how to respond to the crisis as the government tries to push forward with its vaccination campaign, a plan to reopen the country in October and also to quell the lethal and virulent new virus outbreak which has caused anxiety and anger among an increasingly disillusioned public in the kingdom.
Captain Thamanat placed at the head of key subcommittees at Government House this week as the crisis appeared to envelop the ministry
At the end of this week, with the government reeling from a sudden evaporation of public confidence, it was reported that the Deputy Prime Minister had intervened at Government House and set up three subcommittees led by Captain Thamanat to coordinate the official response to the crisis across all ministries.
One of the initiatives that came out of that frenetic period of activity was a proposal for Palang Pracharat Party ministers to forego three months salary in the face of the crisis the whole country now faces.
The Prime Minister led the way with this sacrifice giving up over ฿125,000 per month with many ministers and assistant ministers also following suit.
However, as the crisis is expected to worsen over the weeks to come and with the government’s economic and financial position ebbing from bad to worse as the virus impact becomes more severe, it is predictable that political tension, both within and without the government, will grow.
It is certain also that Captain Thamanat will be at the centre of this struggle for survival.