The highlighting of the ideological divisions in Thai society by Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan on Wednesday and a statement which appeared to suggest the existence of an ongoing threat from elements in the ‘power structure’ has opened up the issue to debate. Academics have long argued that Thailand is trapped in a ‘vicious cycle’ of coups which have stunted its economic and political development since 1932 but more especially since the 11th coup in 2006 and the 12th in 2014.
Somehow, the prospect of another coup raised itself on the political agenda this week as the Pheu Thai Party looks, at this stage, to be on course to an election victory in May 7th’s General Election. An extraordinary statement, on Wednesday, from the ruling Palang Pracharat Party leader Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan appeared to address the mounting concern that a third democratic government elected in Thailand led by the Shinawatra family, may lead to a third coup similar to those staged by the military in 2006 and 2014. In his message, General Prawit, while offering himself as a mediator for national reconciliation also seemed to suggest that there were forces in the country calling for such a move. ‘I have become aware that those who support coups never cease to exist in the power structure,’ General Prawit said in a social media message.
With an unofficial General Election already underway in which support for the opposition Pheu Thai and Move Forward parties is growing and consolidating in all parts of Thailand, even in the South, on Friday, Prime Minister General Prayut Chan ocha addressed elevated speculation this week on the possibility of another coup d’état in Thailand.
General Prayut led the last coup on May 22nd 2014 and, on Friday, was quick to defend his actions at that time.
The need for a statement was driven by unease as it becomes clear to see that the Pheu Thai Party is within reach of a decisive overall majority in parliament.
Pheu Thai sets its sights higher. Now targeting 310 seats in the House of Representatives instead of 250 as polls nationwide show the party doing well
On Friday, the opposition party’s leader Dr Cholnan Srikaew adjusted the party’s aims when he said the polls for key regions around the country including the North, Northeast and Central provinces show the party doing even better than expected.
He revealed that Pheu Thai was now adjusting its target from 250 seats in the next House of Representatives to 310.
This has led to feverish speculation and rumours across social networks throughout the kingdom on the possibility of a preemptive coup by the same establishment forces who were behind the coups in 2006 and 2014, both of which removed governments linked to the Shinawatra family with the distinct possibility now emerging of another Shinawatra, Paetongtarn Shinawatra, leading the same political movement to power.
Momentum is now behind property tycoon Srettha Thavisin assuming office as Prime Minister if Pheu Thai romp home to victory after the votes are counted
It comes amid an emerging consensus that the 36-year-old who has led the party’s successful campaign so far and is the country’s most popular choice for the top job, may not be handed the prime ministerial chair, but is, nevertheless, expected to be at the helm of the new government in Thailand later in the Summer.
It comes with strong indications that Srettha Thavisin may be gearing up to assume the role.
The boss of the Sansiri property development empire attended an economics meeting at Pheu Thai Party headquarters this week while, on Saturday, it was reported that he had transferred billions of baht in shares in his companies to his daughter as he prepares to move over into the political world.
Srettha says he would refuse a cabinet role. His sights are set on the Prime Minister’s chair of office
Last week, Mr Srettha told reporters that he was primarily interested in getting into politics to take on the role of prime minister.
At a function held the previous Friday by the Thai Chinese Chamber of Commerce in Sathon, Bangkok, Mr Srettha said he would refuse a role as a cabinet minister in the next government but may stay on as an economics adviser to the party.
‘As a Thai, we can also do something that benefits the country. But with the power of the prime minister’s seat we can achieve things we previously could only hope might happen,’ he said.
Prime Minister Prayut, on Friday, told reporters that there will be no further coups, said he could not fault what General Prawit said on the issue
On Friday, the man who currently holds that chair, Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha, assured reporters that there will be no further coups.
His comments came following an extraordinary statement on Wednesday from Palang Pracharat Party leader, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan who issued a social media message putting himself forward as a mediator in Thailand between the elite establishment particularly in Bangkok and the political world.
General Prayut told reporters that there was nothing he would fault in General Prawit’s analysis and assessment.
The frank statement, coming at this time, raises the prospect of a further coup in Thailand but also gives an understanding of the thinking behind them.
The 2014 coup in Thailand was the 12th since the kingdom became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.
Academics suggest Thailand is trapped in a ‘vicious cycle’ of coups which have led to the stunting of the country’s political and economic development
Academics have long argued that because of the country’s unique characteristics and relatively poor standard of education, Thailand will continue to be prone to coups.
The lack of maturity in the country’s political establishment which lay dormant in the aftermath of the 2014 coup until 2018 is also a key factor in the equation.
In a country plagued by endemic corruption, the public’s view of politicians even by international standards is a low one while Thailand’s military is a powerful institution which conforms to the traditions and culture of the country.
Many western observers have been astonished in recent weeks at the number of MPs who have quickly switched alliances from one party to another with some even ready to flip their allegiances back to their original party promoted by a desire to achieve political advancement without the same level of allegiance and loyalty seen in western political systems although there are many who remain party stalwarts, as in western countries.
In 2020, Thammasat University’s Dr Somjai Phagaphasvivat warned that Thailand was trapped in a vicious cycle of coups and that the antidote was a more educated population which understood that democracy was more than just winning a General Election.
The vicious cycle refers to the stunting of the economic and social development of the country caused by coups, the political upheaval they bring about and the consequent lack of trust in the efficacy of democratic government.
Frank and open message from Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan addressing Thailand’s biggest problem and unspoken forces in the ‘power structure’
On Wednesday, in his own way, as a former army chief who has played a decisive role in the post-coup government of General Prayut Chan ocha and afterwards in the democratically elected government since 2019, General Prawit told his readers that he had a ‘good understanding of the country’s power structure, which has an impact on power struggles and the distribution of power’ in Thailand.
His thesis was that there is a lot that is unwritten about how the country works but he did confirm that there exists two competing ideologies between which there is still a large chasm and intense rivalry.
This is what drove the street protests of 2013 and 2014 which nearly engulfed the country in strife in the days running up to the 2014 coup with Bangkok nearly grinding to a stand still as the city filled with protest camps while streets and roads were blocked.
Pointedly, General Prawit suggested that the elite in Thailand found it difficult to accept the calibre and competency of some people elected to public office.
General Prawit warns those who support coups at the higher levels of society will never cease to exist
‘I have become aware that those who support coups never cease to exist in the power structure,’ General Prawit said in his message. ‘I look at the situation as a whole with an understanding of why those who wield influence and dictate the direction of the country think and work together as such.’
General Prawit said he intends to reach out to such people and bring them into the national political dialogue to create an atmosphere of trust and reconciliation.
The groundbreaking statement from the leader of the ruling Palang Pracharat Party comes as it appears to be in decline across the kingdom losing ground to the Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party (RTSC) on the right which is promoting his ‘brother in arms’ General Prayut as its presumed prime ministerial candidate as he seeks two further years in power and on the left where the opposition, led by Pheu Thai Party is threatening to sweep the board in the national poll with well over two-thirds of the population now supporting political parties that are not in government or part of the unwieldy coalition that has kept General Prayut in office since 2019.
General Prawit is understood to see himself as a potential kingmaker and a possible coalition partner for Pheu Thai if that party fails to attain over 250 seats in parliament due to his influence within the upper house or Senate which commands 250 votes in the election of the next prime minister until June 2024.
Pheu Thai has consistently refuted suggestions that it may work with Palang Pracharat to bring a government of ‘reconciliation’ to power
This proposal has been consistently rejected by the Pheu Thai Party, its leader Dr Cholnan and its current figurehead Paetongtarn Shinawatra who has suggested that the party will work with other democratic forces instead such as the Move Forward Party, the bête noire of the establishment in Thailand.
This stance by Pheu Thai comes as support for the opposition, fueled by ongoing reports of corruption and the country’s lacklustre economic performance, has grown.
On Friday, General Prayut reminded reporters that he led a democratically elected government installed in 2019 and obliquely defended his role in ousting the Pheu Thai-led government in 2014.
‘I am here because of the parliamentary system and the constitution, aren’t I? You should know what happened in the country before the coup,’ he said brusquely.
He said it was a long time ago but people should remember what the consequences might have been if he had failed to act.
General Prayut brusquely defended his legitimate status as Prime Minister and role in the 2014 coup referring to the crisis facing the country that year
‘What would have happened if nothing had been done to stop the conflict at the time?’ he questioned.
In contrast, he said that, currently, the country was at peace and the people were happy.
‘The country must be peaceful and people happy,’ he said. ‘Don’t go back to the same situation. Who will stage the coup?’
General Prayut went on to agree that current reports of a coup before the May 7th General Election may well be an effort by his detractors to damage his prospects.
He reiterated that he felt the 2014 coup should be the last one but did concede that if there is another, it will not have anything to do with him.
‘I already said a long time ago that the 2014 coup is the last. There should be no coup again,’ he said. ‘It is also up to everyone to help prevent it. If a serious conflict occurs again, I don’t know how to solve it because I have nothing to do with it now.’