The latest broadside is a court order directing the National Anti-Corruption Commission to disclose a summary of its findings of an investigation into Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan over his failure to disclose 22 luxury watches and rings. Any dissolution of the house and the prospect of a quick election is also now made complicated by a potential constitutional crisis after parliament, last week, voted through a measure aimed at adjusting the electoral process.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha is again proving his mettle as a political fighter as he juggles one crisis after another from violent protests in Bangkok to a tanking economy and very real instability within the political party that nominated him as Prime Minister in July 2019 following that year’s election. His government is now precariously balanced following a serious parliamentary coup plot involving former junior minister Thamanat Prompow with most political observers saying it is only a matter of time before the game is up and the government toppled.
On Friday, further pressure was placed on the government after Thailand’s Central Administrative Court issued an order to the National Anti-Corruption Commission to release details of a probe into the controversy surrounding an expensive private watch collection that came under the control of General Prawit Wongsuwan, currently the lynchpin of the government and the leader of the Palang Pracharat Party.
The problem for the government appeared to be disposed of in December 2018 when the commission declared that there were no grounds to take action against General Prawit over 22 luxury watches and rings that he had explained belonged to a close friend of his and were therefore not required to be disclosed under the strict legal requirements imposed on all officials and ministers.
30 days to appeal the court order or release a summary of its 2018 findings on the affair to the public
The anti-corruption body has 30 days to appeal the order or comply.
It had previously decided to withhold the details fearing that the evidence it compiled, including witness statements, may lead to acrimony and potential legal disputes.
The court order came as the result of a request from the media for the public to have access to the details of the case.
PM visits Laem Chabang where a ‘Factory Sandbox’ operates to protect Thai industry from the virus
On Friday, Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha visited Laem Chabang in Chonburi to meet entrepreneurs, business people and local politicians as he attempts to stabilise his government which has been rocked by an attempted parliamentary coup this month.
The government is desperately trying to relaunch the kingdom’s foreign tourism industry and economic prospects while now, nightly and violent confrontations are occurring between the Metropolitan Police Bureau on the street of Bangkok in the Ding Daeg area of the city.
While in Laem Chabang, the PM will see from himself the ‘Factory Sandbox’ projects involving large scale firms who have partnered with the government and the Ministry of Public Health to run programmes to keep production and exports flowing as the economy is poised to enter its fourth and decisive quarter.
Scheme designed to protect industrial output
The scheme involves sealing off staff at the infected facilities while running constant testing on all workers within the scheme.
‘Factory Sandbox’ effort launched to help protect the kingdom’s manufacturing base and retreating prospect of export gains which advanced until May
Thailand, despite the government’s renewed efforts to achieve growth in the fourth quarter, still faces the very real prospect of another year of GDP contraction.
Sudden dash by PM earlier this month warded off a potential collapse of the government
At the same time, the PM must manage to consolidate his political position after firing two renegade ministers following a tumultuous censure debate and vote on Saturday 5th September last which the government ultimately won but only after an audacious parliamentary coup plot was warded off by the intervention of Deputy Prime Minister Prawit and a sudden dash by the prime minister to meet disaffected members of the Palang Pracharat Party at his suite at the parliamentary building on the Friday beforehand.
Crisis averted in parliament as MPs coup plot against the Prime Minister melts in goodwill at crucial meeting
As things currently stand, the stability of his government hinges on his close ally Deputy Prime Minister Prawit, the leader of the main coalition party.
Key coalition parties in government may eventually seize the moment to make their move on Prayut
There is also the growing probability that one of the major coalition partners, the Bhumjaithai Party or the Democrat Party, will choose its moment to break away and bring down the government.
This is most likely to come from the Bhumjaithai Party where some MPs in the course of the year have already called on leader Anutin Charnvirakul to pull the plug on the government because of what they see as the scapegoating of the Minister of Public Health over what has been widely seen as a shambolic and less than impressive response to the pandemic particularly regarding the ability of the kingdom to effectively vaccinate its population which has shattered public trust.
Awkward moments in parliament among members of the Palang Pracharat Party prior to meeting
There were tense and awkward moments in parliament on Wednesday as the political firmament adjusted to last week’s removal of the influential Deputy Minister of Agriculture Thamanat Prompow and the Deputy Minister of Labour Narumon Pinyosinwat.
It came as Palang Pracharat Party leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Prawit Wongsuwan, chaired a meeting of the parliamentary party during which it emerged that the ousted junior ministers would be retaining their former roles as secretary-general of the party and treasurer respectively.
However, the shift in power and alliances was clearly detected even by journalists within the building with a tight-lipped General Prawit refusing to answer questions about the fate of the duo.
At one point, the deputy prime minister and his party got on to a lift in the building with both junior ministers which was followed by awkward silence witnessed by members of the media posse.
After the encounter, Captain Thamanat was asked if he felt uncomfortable coming face to face with General Prawit in the lift followed by the mortifying interlude.
‘It’s been a long time since I’ve been comfortable,’ he retorted.
Strained atmosphere between two former allies, key party officials and the party leader General Prawit
It is now common knowledge that the relationship between the pair and the Palang Pracharat Party leader has become strained by events since the sudden sacking of both junior ministers last week.
Both Captain Thamanat and Ms Narumon had been linked to the plan to collapse the government of Prayut Chan ocha during a no-confidence vote earlier in the month. This was reportedly a scheme to form a coalition government between the opposition Pheu Thai Party, elements of the ruling Palang Pracharat Party and 20 MPs aligned with smaller parties.
Charm offensive mounted by PM to welcome Palang Pracharat Party MPs and ministers to approach him
Since the junior ministers were removed last week, the Prime Minister, General Prayut has launched a charm offensive, reaching out to MPs within the Palang Pracharat Party while urging government ministers within its ranks to feel free to discuss matters with him.
Prior to this, the PM who is not even a member of the Palang Pracharat Party, was known to adopt a standoff mode even to ministers prior to and after cabinet meetings as Captain Thamanat acted as the conduit to organise the ranks of the ruling political group reporting to the Deputy Prime Minister, General Prawit, as party leader and close confidant of General Prayut.
In recent days, General Prayut has visited a number of provinces adjacent to Bangkok and met local MPs in their constituencies emphasising the priority of taking care of constituents while assuring them the government is determined to stay on course for at least another year.
New power players emerge including Justice Minster Somsak Thepsutin, the leader of the Sam Mitr group
On Tuesday, prior to the cabinet meeting, political observers noted that Deputy Prime Minister Prawit invited the leader of the influential and now even more pivotal Sam Mitr group within the Palang Pracharat Party, Minister of Justice Somsak Thepsutin to a pre cabinet meeting at his office in Government House accompanied by Deputy Minister of Finance Santi Prompat and Deputy Minister of Transport Atirat Ratanasate.
Prior to last week’s shift, Mr Thepsutin and his group of approximately 30 MPs had been seen as sidelined within the party.
Mr Thepsutin is an experienced minister who previously served under Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra from 2004 to 2006.
This was a ritual practice of the deputy prime minister with former ministers Thamanat Prompow and Narumon Pinyosinwat before they were sacked.
Bonhomie between the ‘brothers in arms’ on open display this week as Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam warns of a posssible constitutional crisis
At Tuesday’s cabinet meeting, the bonhomie between the Prime Minister and General Prawit, the two ‘brothers in arms’ was clear for all to see while the government leader engaged with the leader of the coalition parties by inviting them to coffee during a break from the meeting.
In recent days, the government’s legal expert, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, has warned that because of a constitutional amendment measure as passed last week in parliament to adjust the voting system for the next election which will benefit the main opposition Pheu Thai Party, any move to dissolve the house while the measure is being processed through its proper legal course, would create potential constitutional difficulties.
This was underlined on Wednesday by Digital Economy and Society Minister Chansin Treenuchagron who dismissed reports that General Prawit wanted to resign as Palang Pracharat Party leader, a move which would immediately destabilise the government.
Captain Thamanat is a fly in the ointment for General Prayut’s hopes of prolonging his hold on power
However, a fly in the ointment is that the estranged Captain Thamanat and his ally Ms Narumon Pinyosinwat remain ensconced, for now, in their party positions while many observers are not sure what is the full extent of support for Captain Thamanat both within and without the Palang Pracharat Party.
What is certain is that it is unlikely that this is the end of the story with political instability now deeply seated both within parliament and on the streets.