After this week’s censure debate in parliament and vote on Saturday, it is clear that the man to watch in Thai politics right now is Captain Thamanat Prompow of the Palang Pracharat Party. Minister of Public Health Anutin Charnvirakul also emerged strengthened by the parliamentary trial despite a less than impressive performance before the House of Representatives.
The Prime Minister and his government survived a no-confidence vote on Saturday in the Thai parliament but General Prayut Chan ocha’s prestige and political standing have been left diminished by a damaging week of censure and controversy with swirling rumours that his government was about to fall to a plot engineered by elements in the ruling Palang Pracharat Party and the leading opposition group in parliament, Pheu Thai.
The Prime Minister by the close of business on Friday at the Thai parliament buildings, along the banks of the Chao Phraya River on Kiakkai Road in the Dusit area of Bangkok, must have felt both relieved and satisfied that a very real parliamentary coup had been averted following a day of drama, rumour and counter rumour in the huge new building complex reputed to be among the largest parliament buildings in the world.
Strong reports emerged in the 72 hours before the crucial vote that a cabal of MPs within the Palang Pracharat Party was planning to overthrow his government by allying with the opposition Pheu Thai Party and smaller parties with 20 seats to form a new government.
Predicted highest tally of votes turned out to be the lowest with the highest votes against for the PM
The threat later submerged amid hastily organised conferences between the Prime Minister and Palang Pracharat Party MPs on the third floor of the building and an emotional parliamentary party meeting on Friday afternoon where the man identified as the main coup plotter, deputy Minister of Agriculture Thamanat Prompow, apologised to General Prayut.
But there was to be a sting in the tail.
On Saturday, when the PM won, his own personal vote was 264 in favour to 208 against.
It was not, as predicted earlier by commentators, the highest vote tally but rather closer to the other end of the spectrum.
This was mere survival, certainly no triumph.
The PM scored the second-lowest number of votes in favour and the highest number of votes against while the leader of the Bhumjaithai Party, Anutin Charnvirakul, emerged with the second-best performance which went to senior Democrat Party minister, Chalermchai Sri-on, who is the Minister of Agriculture.
Anutin plays down vote result but promises to take more care with answering to parliament in future
After the vote, he was asked about his good showing despite a relatively poor performance in answering very sharp questions concerning the purchase of vaccines last week including the Sinovac product from China.
Deputy Prime Minister Anutin, the leader of the Bhumjaithai Party, replied that it mattered little who received the highest vote in favour or against but that all ministers had been affirmed by the House of Representatives and could get on with their jobs.
On Saturday, Palang Pracharat Party list MP for Bangkok, Watanya Wongopasi, a former Thai football team manager and businesswoman, said she had abstained from the vote on Mr Anutin because she was not satisfied with his answers in parliament concerning the purchase of Sinovac vaccines.
The Deputy Prime Minister promised to take on board criticism of his performance in the house this week and to employ medical experts to vet his responses to the members of parliament in the future.
Asked about a possible cabinet reshuffle, he said it clearly was a matter for the Prime Minister, General Prayut.
Political price to be paid for the government’s survival on Saturday as ‘cobras’ are studied carefully
The lowest vote achieved by the Prime Minister in three years of democratic rule was debated by many observers online but the key question was how much the survival of his government had cost the prime minister and what would be the bill to pay up ahead.
Already in the aftermath of the debate, cobras have been revealed with MPs moving from the Pheu Thai Party to the Bhumjaithai Party and from the Palang Pracharat Party to the Democrat Party which may explain the better than expected outcomes achieved by the ministers of both parties who are members of the ruling coalition.
Astute political watchers were also looking at the MPs believed to be aligned with the influential Secretary-general of the Palang Pracharat Party and Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Thamanat Prompow, who had voted against the government.
Mr Thamant himself, a key member and coordinator for the government, voted accordingly.
Last week, he denied encouraging other MPs to vote against the government but defended the right of all members of parliament to vote according to both their conscience and what was best for their constituents.
Pheu Thai MPs joining the Bhumjaithai Party before the next election, at least one from Palang Pracharat
One of these was Ms Pornpimol Thammasan of Pheu Thai who is know to be close to Captain Thamanat and a ‘cobra’ but who, on Saturday, voted against the Prime Minister and other ministers in the government except for the Bhumjaithai Party members, Mr Anutin and Minister of Transport, Saksayam Chidchob.
Ms Pornpimol, who represents Pathum Thani’s 5th district, as well as Sisaket MP Thira Traisornkul and Mr Wuttichai Kittitanaesuan, also a Pheu Thai MP for Nakhon Nayok, are reportedly set to join the Bhumjaithai Party before the next election.
Captain Thamanat Prompow sent aid to Kanchanaburi province on Saturday and a note of encouragement
For the man who appeared, last week, to be at the centre of the political heave inside parliament but who, on Friday, patched things up with the Prime Minister at a parliamentary party meeting, Captain Thamanat, it was business as usual on Saturday as he dispatched aid and provisions to the Dan Makham Tia district of Kanchanaburi province where local residents have been hard hit by a COVID-19 outbreak in the area.
‘We can get through this crisis together,’ said the message of encouragement from the Phayao MP whose tentacles of influence stretch into all provinces.
‘Kanchanaburi is another area that has a large number of infected people and has entered the public health system. There are many communities that have to quarantine causing a temporary cessation of occupation. We are therefore giving necessary items to alleviate the suffering. People can get through this crisis,’ he said.
Junior cabinet minister has assets of over ฿ 1 billion
Captain Thamanat, despite controversy and a colourful past, is a wealthy man with declared assets in excess of ฿1 billion including a Rolls Royce and Bentley car.
His networking ability, both inside and outside parliament, have made him invaluable to the government of Prayut Chan ocha but the events this week have put the Prime Minister on notice that he cannot be taken for granted or his own personal ambitions ignored.
First person to person cabinet meeting after 3-months set for next Tuesday at Government House
Meanwhile, the secretariat to the cabinet has announced that next Tuesday’s meeting will take place at Government House at the Santi Maitri Building on the grounds of the property at 9 am.
For the last three months, the cabinet had been meeting by teleconference and this resumption of interpersonal meetings will be accompanied by strict limits on aides who can take part as well as social distancing measures.
All those taking part in the meeting must be registered through the Thai Chana app used to track Thais amid the COVID-19 crisis.
Participating ministers and members of staff must have their QR codes ready when seeking permission to enter the building for the cabinet meeting.