SRETTHA DENIES PARLIAMENTARY COUP RUMOURS: Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin dismisses rumours of a budget defeat plot and coup to replace him. It comes amid signs, this week, of political turbulence. Meanwhile, he maintains confidence in the coalition government’s strength.

While battling a factional struggle within the Royal Thai Police this week, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin was also presented with a crisis of his own. This centres on swirling rumours of a plot to defeat the government’s 2024 budget bill in parliament. There is also talk of unseating Mr Srettha in a parliamentary coup. The unconfirmed speculation is linked by reports to parties in cabinet including the Palang Pracharat Party. On Friday, reporters in parliament asked opposition whip Pakornwut Udompipatsakul to comment. In short, he expressed his disbelief when confronted by speculation centred on former Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan. In short, he said that any such move without the public’s input, would not be beneficial.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin talked with reporters in parliament on Friday. He insisted that his government was sound and said he had seen no evidence of any plot to defeat the 2024 Budget Bill. At the same time, the Opposition Chief Whip Pakornwut Udompipatsakul MP expressed incredulity at reports of a plot to install former Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan as PM. Certainly, he said such a move would not be beneficial to the country without the public’s input.

There are ominous noises in the political grapevine of instability this week. The political network in Bangkok is abuzz. It speaks of a possible heave against the government and the leadership of Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin.

It coincided with the PM’s return from a controversial trip to Chiang Mai where he met ex-Premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Undoubtedly, the close relationship between Mr Srettha and the Shinawatra family is being noted. Certainly, news reports of the appointment of Shinawatra family stalwart Mr Pichai Chunhavajira as Finance Minister will not have helped. 

At this time, the alleged plot is speculation and planted rumours. However, in Thai politics, this is often how such moves begin after testing the waters

Besides conservatives who traditionally oppose the Pheu Thai Party, there are also reported concerns among segments within the ruling party itself. This is in addition to supporters of the three parties formerly in the government of General Prayut Chan Ocha. These are the Palang Pracharat Party, the Bhumjaithai Party and the United Thai Nation (Ruam Thai Sang Chart) Party.

At this time, it appears that this is simply speculation. However, Thai politics is never what it appears to be and lends itself to byzantine conspiracies. For instance, this may be a deliberate feint which will quickly be denied. The purpose of the exercise being to test the waters for now.

It comes in the wake of a serious crisis within the Royal Thai Police.

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Mr Srettha was pulled into a factional power struggle on Wednesday. In addition, the affair generated disturbing reports of massive corruption within the already embattled force.

Intervention by Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin in a factional crisis within the police force comes as political uncertainty swirls around his premiership

At length, this saw the sidelining of the two top officers in the force. 48 hours after the intervention, there are still signs that this crisis has not yet fully blown over. 

On Tuesday, the Prime Minister was reported to have presided over a fractious cabinet meeting in Lampang. 

Reportedly, there were some tense if not heated exchanges over a number of initiatives proposed at the meeting. One of these was over a proposal by Mr Srettha to ban all maize imports from both Myanmar and Cambodia.

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He proposed this in view of crop-burning activities in those countries. Undoubtedly, they are blighting the quality of life in key Thai cities. 

For instance, the disastrous air pollution seen in Chiang Mai and Bangkok. In recent weeks, Chiang Mai was listed as the most polluted place on the globe. In short, a devastating outcome for Thailand’s critical foreign tourism industry.

Disagreement at Tuesday’s Lampang cabinet meeting

However, the government found itself facing opposition from ministers on the proposal. It was argued that Thailand needed to introduce its clean air provision beforehand. In effect, the kingdom must clean up its own backyard first.

In addition, it was pointed out that the ban may be seen as in contravention of World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.

The cabinet discussion came while Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the Pheu Thai leader visited Phnom Penh to meet Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Manet.

At the same time, the Prime Minister, noted for his extensive series of foreign trips since taking office at the end of August 2023, on Wednesday, suddenly imposed on himself a foreign travel ban.

This is to be for two months. Significantly, the PM himself accepted that there was public concern over his extensive world travel. The government leader is undoubtedly one of the kingdom’s most widely travelled officials.

PM announces a travel ban this Wednesday on himself after becoming one of the country’s most widely travelled officials since taking office in August 2023

On social media site X, he addressed these.

‘I acknowledge your comments and concerns. From March 14 to May 15, I will not travel abroad,’ Prime Minister Srettha announced.

On Friday, Mr Srettha told reporters he maintained confidence in the strength of the coalition government. The PM made the remarks during an interview at Parliament. 

He addressed concerns about fears that the Budget Bill for the fiscal year 2024, may be defeated. It comes amid reports of a major defection or upset within the coalition. 

In addition, the country’s largest party, Move Forward, is also preparing to vote the bill down.

Nevertheless, Mr Srettha emphasised the government’s cohesion and commitment to working together for the nation’s benefit.

The rumours swirling appear to centre on the Palang Pracharat Party led still by former Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan.

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Responding to rumours of budgetary challenges, Srettha sounded confident.

‘As far as we know, there is no imminent action overturning the Budget Act. The government is cohesive with all parties, and such an event should not occur,’ he asserted.

When questioned about the origins of these rumours, Srettha highlighted a lack of substantial evidence. However, he did not deny that he was taking such claims seriously. 

‘We have not found anything in our analysis to substantiate these claims. We are focused on working together effectively.’ He repeatedly underlined his confidence in the coalition government’s stability. 

‘I’m sure we are strong,’ he assured reporters.

Emphasising a commitment to continuous work, Srettha made it clear that he would not be pondering this threat. ‘We are prepared to face any challenge. Our focus remains on delivering results for the people. Our actions speak for themselves.’

Thursday night conference with key cabinet ministers

At the same time, on Thursday night, Mr Srettha met top leaders from two parties. The conference included Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul and Minister of Justice Police General Thawee Sodsong.

Mr Srettha clarified that discussions centred on collaborative efforts rather than addressing potential internal conflicts. 

Nonetheless, political analysts will speculate on why meetings were not held with leading lights for the other two key parties. These are the Palang Pracharat Party and the United Thai Nation (Ruam Thai Sang Chart) Party. 

Both parties are associated with the key leaders of the 2014 coup d’état.

Senate Section 153 debate coming up in the next week. The Prime Minister confirms he will be attending in the interest of transparency and accountability

In the meantime, Mr Srettha also faces opposition and a potential grilling of his government by Thailand’s upper house. 

In response to inquiries about a Senate debate on March 25, Srettha confirmed his attendance. He dismissed speculation of his absence.

The PM affirmed his personal commitment to the government behaving in a transparent and accountable manner.

The debate was called under Section 153 of the 2017 Constitution by the unelected upper house. At length, this body was appointed by the military junta in 2019. 

It is due to be replaced this year when its term expires on May 11th 2024. An electoral process will take place to select new senators. 

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Meanwhile, Pakornwut Udompipatsakul MP of Move Forward, on Friday, confirmed his party’s unanimous decision to oppose the 2024 Budget Act. Mr Pakornwut is the opposition whip in parliament. 

The opposition MP however was caught unawares by reporter’s questions. In short, this was in relation to heightened rumours of a potential challenge to Srettha’s premiership. 

Mr Pakornwut was confronted by speculation that Palang Pracharat Party leader Prawit Wongsuwan may be about to make such a play.

‘If you ask me, I ask, are you serious? That’s all I’m asking,’ the MP responded. ‘I would rather ask society how the past four years have felt. If we have a Prime Minister named General Prawit.’

Despite taking time to consider the question in silence, the MP expressed surprise at such a rumour. Moreover, he warned that if true, it would certainly not be in the public interest. 

‘Ah, here we choose the prime minister according to the needs of the people, or what exactly are their needs? I think it’s a power struggle. Without the public being in the equation. I think people should realise that in the end, it is not beneficial to society or the country.’

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