In a fierce censure debate this week, opposition party MPs came forward with revelation after revelation while government MPs and ministers, apart from the Prime Minister himself, appeared lacklustre in their support of the government particularly in relation to defending its handling of the COVID-19 crisis. MPs associated with smaller political parties have confirmed that a coup plot involving Pheu Thai and the ruling Palang Pracharat Party was in play which could have led to another outside Prime Minister being elected but the question was always would the players go through with the parliamentary coup or would it be aborted at the last moment.
The premiership of Prayut Chan ocha is now expected to survive Saturday’s vote of no confidence with an estimated 263 to 270 votes after an emotional meeting of the Palang Pracharat Party was called to patch up differences between the Prime Minister and Palang Pracharat Party Secretary-general Captain Thamanat Prompow. The meeting also saw a warm display of camaraderie between the ‘three brothers’ at the core of General Prayut’s era in government as he hugged his Deputy Prime Minister and Palang Pracharat Party leader, General Prawit Wongsuwan and praised the unity of the band which also includes the powerful Minister of the Interior, General Anupong Paochinda.
‘If the 3 people stay, they must be together. If you go, you have to go together. There are still stories of these three people that many others do not know,’ a clearly relieved Prime Minister told the meeting. ‘If we stay, we have to stay 3 people.’
General Prawit then asked the Prime Minister: ‘Do you want to be Prime Minister?’ General Prayut replied, in an ebullient mood, ‘Are you crazy? That’s what I already am.’
At the meeting, words were expressed between Captain Thamanat Prompow and the government leader in which the PM vowed to correct the complaints made against him that he had not met many serving Palang Pracharat Party MPs while Captain Thamanat promised that the government leader would win the no-confidence debate and do better than other minsters.
The Prime Minister said he would prefer if all government ministers emerged on an equal footing.
Captain Thamanat offered an apology to the Prime Minister at the emotional meeting on the ninth floor
In what appeared to be an apology, Captain Thamanat denied many of the press reports emerging over the previous 48 hours and told the assembled MPs on the ninth floor of parliament buildings that the media often writes stories with no factual basis.
Emerging later from the meeting, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, in playful high spirits, while on the move, leaned forwards as if to punch a questioning female reporter gently on the chin as he told her that everyone within the Palang Pracharat Party loved each other and that there were no problems within the party.
Government went into the meeting on a knife-edge, faces a crisis that will only end with votes counted
The government of Prayut Chan ocha went into that meeting facing a crisis with the mounting of an attempted coup against it in parliament involving small parties and a pact between Pheu Thai and elements within the ruling Palang Pracharat Party itself on the cards.
The coup was said to be in the offing ahead of Saturday’s no-confidence vote in the Premier due to take place in the House of Representatives.
There are still fears that Saturday could see some surprises as MPs cast their votes in the parliamentary chamber.
Investigation into bribery claims at the Prime Minister’s 3rd-floor suite aired by Chiang Mai MP
On Friday, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Chuan Leekpai, ordered a committee of enquiry after a Chiang Mai MP claimed that efforts were being made by the PM to bribe MPs with ฿5 million payments while a last-ditch meeting was reported as scheduled for the Prime Minister Prayut to meet the man, this week, thought to be at the confluence of the plot, Captain Thamanat Prompow, ahead of the crucial vote.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives ordered an investigating committee of enquiry after Pheu Thai MP Wisarn Techathirawat, made serious charges on the floor of the House that the Prime Minister, Prayut Chan Ocha, was meeting MPs on the third floor of the parliament and handing out payments of ฿5 million to members who would support him in a no-confidence vote on his premiership this Saturday.
‘I take responsibility,’ the northern MP said, referring to the remarks. ‘MPs went to the PM’s room to receive ฿5 million.’
Nakhon Sawan MP denies claims of ฿5 million bribes and says he met the PM to offer moral support
The shocking statement was immediately contradicted by Palang Pracharat Party MP from Nakhon Sawan, Mr Weerakorn Khamprakop.
‘We only wanted to offer moral support to the prime minister,’ Mr Weerakorn countered. ‘We did not take any money. This is an insult. How come the MPs can receive the money on these premises? That’s utter nonsense.’
Fault lines that have been there for some time have suddenly become active due to public pressure on MPs
The background to these developments are faults lines and splits within the ruling Palang Pracharat Party which have emerged in full view in recent days as a plot between it and the leading Pheu Thai opposition party was confirmed by some MPs in parliament linked with smaller parties who commanded twenty votes which may have been decisive if a parliamentary coup was launched on Saturday to effectively remove the prime minister who has been in power since May 2014 after he led an army coup to defuse escalating street protests.
Public pressure has begun to focus the minds of MPs who already know an election is not far off in any event.
Some sources in parliament have also linked the move with plans to form a new government which would be approved by former premier Thaksin Shinawatra and suggested that if the coup had gone ahead and was successful, another Prime Minister would be selected by the new coalition formed by the parliamentary coup.
Captain Thamanat Prompow has reemerged again as a key power player in the political sphere
Despite his denial on Friday afternoon, it had also become common currency among members of the National Assembly that the newly elected Secretary-general of the Palang Pracharat Party, Captain Thamanat Prompow, had been linked with moves against the Prime Minister among disgruntled Palang Pracharat Party members and other parties to the coalition government and in parliament.
The reports were that an effort to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha was in play although reports were confused with one source suggesting that this involved a power play.
It was later reported that a meeting between the Prime Minister and the junior minister at the Ministry of Agriculture Mr Thamanat had been organised by Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan where the junior minister would tender an apology.
Prime Minister laughingly denied ฿5 million bribery claims raised in parliament now being probed
On Friday, the Prime Minister, General Prayut, was in parliament and while he was harangued by enthusiastic reporters, he pointed to his head and said he knew what the situation was but preferred not to discuss it with the media.
He also referred to the sensational reports of ฿5 million bribes for MPs and pointed at his black briefcase jokingly inviting the media to assess it and see what it contained.
On Friday at 8 pm, as he left the parliament building, he displayed three large black leather bags which were opened in front of the media.
He explained that they contained files on all government departments. He had brought them to be prepared for the censure debate.
On Saturday’s vote, he said: ‘What do I have to worry about? The world is bound by karma.’
Earlier, House Speaker, Chuan Leekpai, ordered a committee of enquiry of the house to investigate the claims made in parliament by the opposition members which were vociferously rejected by government MPs as false and scandalous.
Image and prestige of parliament at stake
The speaker Mr Chuan said a committee of enquiry was necessary as the image of the House had been affected by the accusations and there was a strong public interest in knowing the truth of the matter.
One MP even called for CCTV footage of the third floor to be examined after claims were made that a camera had been removed.
The reports stem from hastily convened meetings between the Prime Minister and groups of MPs on the third floor of the parliament building at the seldom-used suite reserved for the Prime Minister where he received them.
Open secret of rising discontent within Palang Pracharat with the prime minister’s performance
It is openly admitted that there are disgruntled groups within the Palang Pracharat Party, some suggesting possibly a majority, who are at least unhappy with the government of Prayut Chan ocha and the way the COVID-19 crisis has been handled since June.
One opposition MP noted this week that serious accusations were hurled at the government including claims of conflicting prices on the purchases of the now controversial Sinovac vaccine from China.
There were claims that orders had been placed at inflated prices and public monies were not properly accounted for.
Prime Minister appeared weak and was treated disrespectfully as he defended himself on the floor of the House of Representatives this week
This is thought to have seen a less than robust response from the government benches and key ministers apart from the Prime Minister himself who endured days of heated debate including one incident on Thursday where an MP accused the government leader of being a public health threat because of a continuing cold the Prime Minister appeared to suffer under.
In a less than respectful outburst, the MP said he counted the prime minister sniffling no less than 98 times.
Among the deputations that went to meet General Prayut on Friday was a 10 member delegation led by the junior minister at the Finance Ministry, Santi Prompat, who is also a key leader within the Palang Pracharat Party.
He was accompanied by 10 MPs from Nakhon Sawan, Phichit, Phitsanulok and Mae Hong Son provinces.
Parliament divided into groups and factions with diverse backgrounds ready to make a move
Reports from parliament suggest that Captain Thamanat Prompow and the government chief whip Wirat Ratanaset along with a group of party-list MPs represent 40 votes on the floor of the House of Representatives while the influential Sam Mitr group, led by Justice Minister, Somsak Thepsutin, has 30 votes.
Mr Somsak is a former Labour Minister and Deputy Prime Minister who served in the government of Thaksin Shinawatra from 2004 to 2006 when the ex-premier was removed by another army coup.
Many of these MPs have diverse backgrounds with some having, in the past, been Pheu Thai members or having links with governments led by Mr Thaksin or his sister Yingluck Shinawatra.
There are also reported to be other factions in the Thai lower house including groups from Bangkok and the southern provinces.
High noon meeting before the crucial vote
One report, on Friday, had suggested that the meeting between Captain Thamanat Prompow and the Prime Minister, General Prayut, hosted by Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan had been arranged.
The meeting before the vote was to clear the air and mend fences or either way, determine the outcome on what was now a critical vote for General Prayut’s government.
General Prawit is the leader of the Palang Pracharat Party.
The plot to sink the government followed simmering tensions within the Palang Pracharat Party since last year which have grown as public confidence in the government has dived.
A devastating opinion poll in Thai Rath, a popular Thai language newspaper in early July showed only 1.8% of the public had any confidence in the administration of the former Army Commander and Chief and coup leader.
Coup rumours between Pheu Thai and Palang Pracharat Party have been confirmed by party MPs
Senior figures associated with the smaller parties in parliament have confirmed that there was some truth to the rumours of a political coup being hatched between the Palang Pracharat Party and Pheu Thai but what is not clear is how far the players were prepared to see it through at this time.
After Friday’s meeting and claims of goodwill, some Palang Pracharat Party sources were suggesting that the heave against the PM may still go ahead on Saturday as feelings had been running so high.
The moves come amid almost continuous street protests and severe uncertainty about prospects for the economy.
The rumours in parliament were widespread and suggested that a plot was unfolding to install a government formed by the Pheu Thai Party and the Palang Pracharat Party working together with other groupings.
Such reports gained ground after the opposition removed Palang Pracharat Party leader and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan and Captain Thamanat Prompow from their target lists for this week’s censure debate against the government.
Coup plot may still only amount to parliamentary manoeuvres to gain political advantage
It would be wrong to ascribe too much credence to the reports apart from treating them as parliamentary moves to gain an advantage by a range of parties and political operatives including Captain Thamanat who has long been tipped for a senior government position or reported to have coveted such a position, in particular, the top job at the Ministry of the Interior.
On Thursday, Captain Thamanat made it clear that he had no talks or contact with the Prime Minister and only reported to the leader of his party, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit.
‘I was not doing anyone favours by lobbying or rounding up MPs from other parties to vote against anyone. I would never do that,’ he said.
He threatened legal action against anyone who suggested that he was acting with impropriety.
The junior minister denied he was involved in efforts to convince MPs to vote against the Prime Minister but made it clear that MPs in parliament were only answerable to their constituents and were free to vote according to how best to serve them when a no-confidence motion came before the house.
Prime Minister Prayut sounded not as confident as usual when questioned by reporters on Friday
Earlier reports from parliament suggested that the government of the Prime Minister was not in danger and that only 40 MPs have contemplated delivering a blow to his administration.
In parliament, on Friday, however, the Prime Minister was not as confident as usual and suggested that the vote was up to MPs in the house.
When asked if he was comfortable about the forthcoming vote, he replied, ‘It’s fine,’ although his voice did not ring with the same level of enthusiasm as on previous occasions.
He told reporters that he had spoken with Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan and that he was assured that there was no problem.
‘We have already said that there is no problem. There’s nothing to say,’ he said when pressed on the substance of his talk with General Prawit.
Questioned further about whether he had words with Captain Thamanat Prompow, he turned to reporters and said: ‘Hey, why not? Why can’t I talk to anyone? I can talk to them all.’
Fake news alert issued by ministry as Thai Civilised Party leader announced Captain Thamanat Prompow had been fired from the government
There was a misleading announcement on Friday afternoon by Mongkolkit Suksintharanon of the Thai Civilised Party who suggested that the Prime Minister had ordered the dismissal of Captain Thamanat from the cabinet.
This was later confirmed as fake news by an alert issued by the Digital Economy and Society Ministry which said that an investigation showed that no such order had been issued.
The small party leader suggested that there was now a battle raging between the representatives of the people and those who supported the ‘good uncle’ referring to Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha’s nickname which is ‘Uncle Tu’ in Thai.
The party leader also encouraged the prime minister to fire his long-standing ally, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit.
‘If you’re really sure!!! You can also fire General Prawit Wongsuwan, another one,’ he posted on Facebook.
Initial good news for Prayut on Friday
Responding to news of this, Captain Thamanat would only say that he did not know. He told reporters that they should address themselves to General Prawit.
‘I can confirm that I do not talk to the Prime Minister. But talk to the Deputy Prime Minister, my party leader. I just went to lunch with the Deputy Prime Minister this afternoon,’ he said.
There was some initial good news for General Prayut and his government on Friday evening when the Minister of Natural Resources, Varawut Silpa-Archa, indicated that his Chartthaipattana Party will be voting for the PM and all ministers in the government on Saturday.