11 July 2024

After nine years in power, the once formidable alliance of Thailand’s three brothers-in-arms finally came to an end in 2023.

The political era of the “3 Ps” – General Prayut Chan-o-cha, General Prawit Wongsuwan, and General Anupong “Pok” Paochinda – ended with the disappointing performance of the old power clique’s parties at the May 14 general election.

The trio’s chance of returning to power was undermined by a split between Prayut and Prawit before the election. Seeking to extend his time as prime minister, Prayut ditched Prawit’s Palang Pracharath Party and became the PM candidate of a new party, United Thai Nation.

Rivalry between ‘brothers’

The rift had come to a head two years earlier in September 2021 after then-PM Prayut discovered that certain party MPs had plotted against him at a no-confidence debate.

The rivalry between the two brothers-in-arms intensified in the run-up to the election as both vied for the premiership. At the 2019 election, Prayut had been the sole PM candidate of Palang Pracharath, which came second in the national vote and formed a coalition government.

The three former Army chiefs thereby managed to retain power after five years of running the junta following the May 2014 coup led by Prayut as Army chief. Already hit by low popularity among voters, the old power clique’s chances were further damaged by contesting the election with two separate parties, said analysts.

The predictions were borne out when the two parties won just 76 seats in the 2023 election, down from the 116 won by Palang Pracharath in 2019.

Going separate ways

The 3Ps went their separate ways after their parties were beaten in this year’s election by two former opposition leaders, with the liberal Move Forward winning most seats, just ahead of Pheu Thai.

On November 29, Prayut was appointed by royal command to the Privy Council, which serves as His Majesty the King’s advisory body.

Given his new status, the former PM will likely bow out of direct involvement in politics. The Constitution bars privy councilors from being affiliated with a political party or serving in any political role including an MP or senator.

Prayut’s political fall coincided with Pheu Thai’s return to power after its prime ministerial candidate Srettha Thavisin secured majority support in Parliament to become Thailand’s next leader.

Srettha received 482 votes, 152 of which came from junta-appointed senators. Many of the senators who voted for him are close to General Prayut, including Prayut’s younger brother, General Preecha. The strong support from senators fueled speculation that Pheu Thai had done a backroom deal with the outgoing powers.

Analysts said the old power clique opted to work with Pheu Thai to prevent the liberal Move Forward from forming a government. Prayut resigned from United Thai Nation, paving the way for the conservative party to partner with its rivals Pheu Thai in forming a new coalition. Pheu Thai welcomed the alliance despite its earlier promise not to ally with parties of the outgoing government.

Retiring from politics

Anupong, 74, has not been seen on a political stage since this year’s election. He had announced his retirement from politics months before the election, citing his old age.

During his nine years as interior minister, Anupong no doubt built a strong network in the powerful ministry, which oversees provincial governors throughout the country. The soft-spoken retired general has stayed out of the media limelight and seems to have no obvious political enemies.

Waiting for right time

In contrast to his two comrades-in-arms, “big brother” Prawit remains involved in politics, albeit with a considerably diminished role compared to his heyday.

He served as defense minister in Prayut’s post-coup junta and then deputy prime minister in charge of security during PM Prayut’s second term.

In this year’s election, Prawit retained his seat as a party-list MP and still leads Palang Pracharath, which has become a partner in the Pheu Thai-led government coalition. However, he holds no Cabinet seat after handing the post of deputy PM and minister of natural resources and environment to his younger brother, former national police chief Pol General Patcharawat Wongsuwan.

Prawit appears to be grooming his brother, a political novice, as his successor at the party’s helm. Analysts reckon Prawit will only step down once he is sure that Palang Pracharath is in good hands.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk