11 July 2024

Although Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha appears to be sailing out of a big storm, his ship will still remain in uncharted waters, which could turn extremely treacherous at any moment. His political situation seems to have improved but that was in spite of, not because of, the performances of his government.

Whether or not Super Poll is “friendly” toward the administration as alleged by critics, its latest survey carries a truthful warning for Prayut: Keep this Cabinet line-up intact at your own risks.

It was a survey of nearly 3,000 Thais in the wake of the censure debate. Although 79.4%, a considerable majority, agreed that the Prayut government should carry on, as much as 77.8% insisted that a large-scale Cabinet shake-up should take place. Prayut remained the most popular Cabinet figure among the total of 10 targeted for no-confidence attacks, but the big percentage of people clamoring for a big Cabinet change implied that such a rating was also fragile.

Street protests have also lost much of their menace. Again, it was because of them and in spite of the rather imperfect Prayut government. Problems concerning the “uncontrollable” guards, controversial demands, fund-raising controversies, scrutiny of key,iconic figures and the bet on a generation that is bold, opinionated and liberal but can lose interest quicklyhave combined to weaken a movement that looked so powerful just months ago.

Protesters were peaceful on February 20 in a gathering that greeted the government’s comfortable censure survival. They appeared down but far from out. Signs and fears of violence have eased considerably, but the movement will remain seeds of grass that can stay underground as long as it takes, and sprout up when conditions are right.

As of now, peaceful as they were, the protesters looked stuck in a paradox. Their message at the end of the censure, “If Parliament can’t perform, we will”, indeed raises a question of what they actually want. The no-confidence vote is strictly limited to the House of Representatives, taking the “biased” Senate out of the equation. Every government has won and every opposition has lost, regardless of how “democratic” the environments were. Simply put, the protesters might as well have said that the House of Representatives, a main pillar of democracy, was not working.

A House of Representatives that expels inefficient or corrupt minister does not exist. In that sense, no House of Representatives has ever performed or will ever perform. And what good a democracy is if it only leads to elections that put non-performing representatives to work for the people? The movement posed the ironic question loud and clear itself.

The protesters and the parliamentary opposition had been hoping to feed off each other. As it turned out, they did little to help each other. The movement’s momentum was lost for the listed reasons, and the opposition did not possess information that is solid, big and shocking enough to rattle the Prayutadministration. When opposition MPs laughing improperly and the prime minister sulking because no-one was listening to him became the biggest news, censure strategists must be worried.

The opposition proclaimed it won hearts although it lost the vote. To be fair to the bloc, it has done its duty. Substance of that duty, though, has been overshadowed by too much incendiary rhetoric, and the public demand for a big Cabinet reshuffle has been and will always be there regardless of the censure.

But politics can make huge matters look small and small matters appear enormous. Prayut remains very much in that type of politics. To make it sound scarier for him, he has the duty to tackle the real picture as well, and this task is immense. He needs to “do good” and “appear good” at the same time.

He has navigated a major storm, but is only heading towards waters that look deceptively calmer. The Thai people are waiting to see whether and how he is going to reshape his Cabinet, and how much trouble he would create for himself with significant reshuffles. To use another metaphor, he is a cheerful skater having completed a successful flip jump but continuing to operate on thin ice.

By Tulsathit Taptim