6 June 2024

They were skating on thin ice together like a pair, but, currently, the prime minister and arguably the most controversial man in his government coalition are drifting in opposite directions. Their paths have one thing in common, though: the treachery.

The Prayut-Thammanat relationship has been full of ironies. Their possible separation will be the same, if not more so. The parliamentary opposition and Prayut’s opponents on the streets can attest to that. To start with, they had condemned the fact that Prayut put someone as contentious and unpopular as Thammanat in his Cabinet, but now are pointing at the “importance” of Thammanat in Prayut’s survival.

The ironies aside, Thai politics is probably heading toward a deadlock. A full-blown Thammanat revolt against Prayut will not give the former what he wanted, which drove him to muddy government waters in the first place. In other words, Thammanat will not get a powerful Cabinet position under a government led by Pheu Thai or one that has Move Forward as a coalition partner. Any connection Thammanat might have with such a future government will be secretive at best.

As for Prayut, if he did not dissolve the House of Representatives in the next few days to maintain any kind of constitutional advantage, his only other option is to try to muddle through until the four-year term is completed. In the latter scenario, he will have to hope that the coronavirus must be kind and the voting public is “understanding” when economic hardships are concerned.

Even if those two wishes are granted, Prayut will not be guaranteed a second term. Thammanat is said to be not just an important power broker Prayut had, but also the only one. There is a school of thought that it does not matter whether the alliance among Prayut, Palang Pracharath leader Prawit Wongsuwan and Interior Minister Anupong Paochinda remains intact or not, because the bloc’s House maneuvering will be a lot less effective without Thammanat.

In an interview following his shocking departure from the Cabinet, Thammanat suggested that his future at the Palang Pracharath Party is far from certain. He did not even rule out forming another political party. Palang Pracharath’s key government allies, namely the Bhumjaithai, Chartthaipattana and Democrat parties, have issued the same cautious message: They have not seen any sign of a House dissolution, but they can’t second-guess Prayut.

Bhumjaithai, in particular, is trumpeting the relationship between the prime minister and Palang Pracharath leader Prawit, describing it as unwaveringly solid and brotherly. Then again, Prawit is leading a party expected to experience rocky situations between now the next election, is never recognized as a shrewd parliamentary strategist and carries a not-so-popular public image himself.

Even Prayut supporters who had frowned upon Thammanat are bemoaning the apparent breakup as something that will boost the chances of the opponents of the government in and after the next election. Thammanat is someone you don’t like when he is on your side, but hate it more when he is with the enemies.

Now, he still remains with Palang Pracharath. The question has to be “How longer?”

Prayut’s rivals, meanwhile, are cheering. That’s not because a Cabinet member who they doubted would serve public interests is finally no longer there, but because the prime minister and the person who could have helped him win the second term have burned their bridges.

This shows that politics still gives utmost importance to organizing ability and not virtues. Regarding Thammanat, Prayut may have done the right thing for the wrong reason, but the prime minister’s opponents are no different. As for Thammanat, he must be hoping that this kind of politics remains unchanged, because he could still thrive in the fluid atmospheres it generates.

Thaksin Shinawatra has denied a mega, albeit secret, deal with Thammanat that would have destroyed the Prayut coalition right at the final voting of the recent censure. The man in Dubai suggested that less money would have been needed to overthrow the Prayut government, and although he said he would never engage in any kind of bribery, it was a weird thing to say nonetheless. Most of all, he was talking about elected representatives of the people, not appointees.

Coming from men like him, whose projected images require them to honor direct representatives of the public, Thaksin’s statements, allusions or else, all but charged that MPs can be bought up, that there are always elected politicians who thrive on under-the-water and probably dishonest political atmospheres, because those people know that whatever they do, someone somewhere will need them somehow.

Prayut and Thammanat may be walking on separate tightropes now, but they are doing so in the same old environment conducive to a vicious circle.

By Tulsathit Taptim