Embattled PM stresses that his government has preserved peace and stability and says any radical plans to boost incomes and address inequality will require a far bigger budget. It comes as the country’s political affairs look set to be clarified in late June or July once the new voting laws are passed by parliament.

There are growing indications of a plot by opposition parties to bring down the government at the end of June or early July once key voting bills have been passed into law. On Tuesday, amid reports that the Pheu Thai Party deputy leader Yuttapong Charasathien and Captain Thamanat Prompow of the newly relaunched Setthakij Thai Party (Thai Economic Party) were planning to meet, an urgent intervention by Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan was called upon. It comes only days after reported bribes of up to ฿30 million were reported as being offered to some MPs to defect from the government benches amid a growing lack of confidence in the economy with a beleaguered government leader who is running out of time.

pm-prayut-chan ocha-running-out-of-time-as-plots-rise
On Tuesday, an intervention by Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan (inset left) led to assurances that the premier’s arch-foe and former minister, Thamanat Prompow (inset right), who is thought to have been behind a plot to topple the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha (centre) last September, that nearly succeeded, would not be meeting Pheu Thai Party deputy leader Yuttapong Charasathien as reported earlier on May 23rd next to discuss the opposition party’s efforts to put together over 30 defectors from the government needed to vote it down in a no-confidence motion expected in late June or early July. Mr Thamanat is currently secretary-general of the Setthakij Thai Party (Thai Economic Party) which can muster 18 MPs, former Palang Pracharat Party members who were expelled from the party earlier in the year for demanding changes in the government.

On Tuesday, the Deputy Prime Minister, Prawit Wongsuwan was called on to intervene after it was reported that the newly installed Secretary-general of the Setthakij Thai Party (Thai Economic Party), Thamanat Prompow, has been linked to a move by the opposition to unseat Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha in June or July when a no-confidence motion is expected to be tabled following the second and third readings of the new voting laws.

These are expected to be presented to parliament on May 24th next by a legislative committee reviewing the provisions of the new electoral laws and balloting system.

New Economics Party a threat to Prayut

This follows press reports which suggested the former minister, Mr Thamanat, had accepted an invitation to dinner from the deputy leader of the Pheu Thai Party, Yuttapong Charasathien, who is known to be coordinating opposition efforts to find over 30 MPs from smaller parties and within the coalition benches who are prepared to turn on the government later in the summer months.

Deputy PM Prawit reached out to Thamanat Prompow who nearly toppled Prayut’s government last year

It is understood that this led to a representation made to Thamanat Prompow by the Palang Pracharat Party leader and deputy PM who is thought to be close to the controversial MP and former cabinet minister.

Mr Thamanat previously was thought to have been the force behind a surprise parliamentary coup attempt from within the Palang Pracharat Party and extending into other parties last September which some insiders say came very close to toppling General Prayut in a dramatic vote on September 3rd 2021.

PM moves against cabal within Palang Pracharat behind failed heave against him – Thamanat out

This subsequently led to the expulsion of the Phayao MP and former Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives from the cabinet along with Deputy Minister of Labour, Narumon Pinyosinwat, another cabinet member linked with the heave.

Political coup in 2021 led to Thamanat’s expulsion from the cabinet, his party job and the party itself

Captain Thamanat was subsequently also removed as Palang Pracharat Party secretary-general and from the ruling party altogether along with 17 other MPs to eventually join the newly invigorated Setthakij Thai Party (Thai Economic Party) which is currently led by General Wit Devahastin Na Ayudhya, a former Palang Pracharat Party stalwart and, similarly, reportedly, close to General Prawit Wongsuwan

‘He won’t go,’ confirmed General Prawit on Tuesday afternoon after his intervention.

The loyal deputy to General Prayut said that he asked the younger politician to focus his attention and energies on the good of the country at this time.

However, rumours are swirling in political circles that the Pheu Thai Party have more than the 30 MPs they need to overthrow the government in the censure vote with a ‘Group of 16’ potential MPs being courted by the opposition parties, in addition to the possible defection of the smaller Setthakij Thai Party (Thai Economic Party) from the coalition’s ranks.

Setthakij Thai Party (Thai Economic Party)’s leader gave an ambiguous response this week to questions citing the nature and uncertainty of politics

When asked, on Tuesday, about his party’s intentions, the leader of the smaller party appeared to be ambiguous in his response by denying that there would be any surprise but, at the same time, insisting that nothing could be ruled out in politics.

‘No such surprises will come,’ General Wit said initially but then added: ‘But we can never really be certain of anything when it comes to politics. Who knows?’

The invitation to Captain Thamanat from the Pheu Thai Party deputy leader was for dinner after Parliament reconvenes on May 23rd next.

Crisis averted in parliament as MPs coup plot against the Prime Minister melts in goodwill at crucial meeting
Chastened PM Prayut survives but minor coalition parties and Anutin are the winners of the big vote

The purpose of this meeting was to discuss moves already underway from within the main opposition party to unseat the current premier who expelled Mr Thamanat from his cabinet and was then seen to be behind the moves to have the MP, a well known political fixer, removed from his Palang Pracharat Party position and expelled from the party itself after the attempted coup to unseat the prime minister in the no-confidence vote in early September 2021.

Other party MPs play down the threat

Mr Thamanat is also a former member of the Pheu Thai Party and had previously been a member of Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Rak Thai Party in 1999.

On Tuesday, however, a Setthakij Thai Party (Thai Economic Party) MP, Boonsing Warinrak, appeared to play down any potential move by Mr Thamanat or his party colleagues to move against the coalition government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha.

‘The party secretary-general has emphasised the importance of constructive politics with the public benefit close to our hearts,’ he told reporters.

Rumours of bribes akin to reports last September when government looked vulnerable before the vote

However, political observers have noted that rumours have been flying in the last week that bribes are being offered to MPs on the government benches to switch sides or become ‘cobras’.

Some reports have suggested figures ranging from ฿5 million to ฿30 million having been offered to tempt MPs.

A similar situation developed last year when it became clear that the fate of the government was in jeopardy before decisive intervention by Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha who came to parliament to meet MPs personally at that time.

These reports have been roundly denied and laughed off by senior figures within the coalition government such as Deputy Prime Minister Jurin Laksanawisit, the Minister of Commerce and leader of the Democrat Party as well as Anutin Charnvirakul of the Bhumjaithai Party, Minister of Public Health and also a deputy prime minister.

Both figures have pledged their support to the government until it finishes its course with an election likely to be called, in any event, before the end of the year.

‘Impossible to believe’ says Justice Minister

Minister of Justice, Somsak Thepsutin, who is a pivotal figure in the Palang Pracharat Party and a former deputy prime minister in the governments of Thaksin Shinawatra, also laughed off the reports as simply lacking credibility.

‘That’s too much money to be spent on ousting the government considering that the government has not much time left in office. That’s impossible to believe,’ he told reporters frankly last week.

The opposition, led by the Pheu Thai Party, is set to table a motion but only once the new voting bills are officially read into law.

They will reportedly target the government’s performance on the economy.

Economy seen as the ‘laggard’ of Southeast Asia with the kingdom’s growth falling well behind its peers

This week, a senior economist on the ASEAN region for Bank of America Securities, Mohamed Faiz Naguth, told US TV network CNBC that Thailand was the ‘laggard’ of the region when it came to economic growth as he argued that governments in Southeast Asia will have to raise interest rates to counter what he warned might be potential civil unrest because of the dangerous surge in inflation driven primarily by energy and foodstuff costs which are a larger proportion of household budgets in the region.

He thought that Thailand was least likely to do this as it seeks to prime growth this year which is far behind the kingdom’s neighbours in the region.

‘And for other ASEAN central banks, we see rate hikes from the second half of the year,’ Nagutha said, specifically mentioning Malaysia. ‘One exception is Thailand because it has been a big laggard in terms of the growth of recovery — so we do think that they can afford to stay on hold for a bit longer.’

Prime Minister warns that peace and order are a priority while his government is working on a limited budget to fight inequality and boost incomes

The question within Thailand is can General Prayut hang on, even as he faces a constitutional challenge to his position due to the 8-year term limit imposed by the constitution which could expire in August this year under one interpretation of Section 158 as power slowly ebbs away from this administration towards an election that looks like it will be called by the end of the year and then what?

Both sides of the political divide agree a General Election will be called before the end of 2022

Speaking last week, Prime Minister Prayut asked who will replace him and emphasised the need for the country to have peace and order above all things?

General Prayut defended his government’s performance but said that he was working on a limited financial budget and he did not propose to create a financial problem for future generations.

‘The problem is we are working on a limited budget. We must think of how to avoid creating a financial burden in the future,’ he explained. ‘If I have the chance to stay on and carry on with the work, I will have to rethink the problems, particularly those related to inequality, people’s income and careers. Today, Covid-19 has disrupted the original plans of action, and we have had to deal with many problems at the same time, which required a huge budget.’

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Further reading:

Pheu Thai calls for a landslide win but a crisis is a rising prospect if new voting laws flounder in parliament

Poll supports retention of the one ballot election process which would torpedo Pheu Thai landslide hopes

Legal pot does not appear to be working for Anutin’s Bhumjaithai Party in latest opinion poll

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