Prayut and his brothers-in-arms plot path back to power after election

New political parties are being launched to extend the rule of the so-called “3Ps” – generals Prayut, Prawit and “Pock” – after the next election, say political analysts.

Ruamthai Sarngchart (United Thai Nation), Thailand Together and Thoet Thai have been formed as apparent vehicles for a political comeback by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, Deputy Premier Prawit Wongsuwan, and Interior Minister Anupong “Pock” Paochinda.

Analysts say the former brothers-in-arms appear to have calculated that the ruling Palang Pracharath Party, which lifted them to power after the 2019 election, is suffering waning popularity after more than three years in government. Palang Pracharath was formed from the remnants of the military junta that ruled following the 2014 coup led by Prayut.

Substitute parties?

Ruamthai Sarngchart is led by Pirapan Salirathavibhaga, who is PM Prayut’s adviser and a former key figure in the coalition Democrat Party.

The new party’s other executives include former Democrat politicians Akanat Promphan and Witthaya Kaewparadai, who were core figures in the now-defunct People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC).

Between late 2013 and early 2014, the PDRC paralyzed swaths of Bangkok by organizing anti-government rallies in a campaign that culminated in the May 2014 military coup.

Thailand Together Party is led by Gen Vitch Devahasdin Na Ayudhya, who is close to Prawit and is viewed as his proxy.

The two new parties held general meetings earlier this month to select their executive boards.

The third party, Thoet Thai, has yet to select its executive members. However, it is thought that a close associate of Prayut, Seksakol Atthawong, aka “Rambo of the Northeast”, will become the party leader.

A former red-shirt leader, Seksakol denies that his party is an offshoot of Palang Pracharath but says that it could ally with the ruling party.

Seksakol, who is viewed as a devoted and outspoken protector of Prayut, was a co-founder of Ruamthai Sarngchart. But he resigned from the party – as well as the seat of vice minister in the Prime Minister’s Office – after a leaked audio clip prompted suspicion, he had handed over lottery ticket quotas to a broker in exchange for millions in campaign funding. Seksakol denied this was the case, saying he had only been “joking” during the leaked telephone conversation.

Chance of winning

The existence of these three parties indicates that Palang Pracharath is thought to be incapable of winning the next general election on its own, meaning “backup parties” are needed to boost Prayut’s chance of extending his time in power, says Wanwichit Boonprong, a political science lecturer at Rangsit University.

He added that the “3Ps” do not need to win a majority in the lower House at the next election as they can count on support from the 250 senators appointed by their post-coup junta.

“They [the 3Ps] want or hope to win around 125 MP seats [at the next election]. When this is combined with support from the 250 senators, they will have 375 votes, which is enough to help Prayut return as the premier,” said the analyst.

“They also hope that the current [largest] coalition partners – Bhumjaithai and the Democrats – will continue to support Prayut even though his legitimacy as PM may be questioned.”

A clause in the Constitution empowers the Senate to join the 500-member House of Representatives in voting to select the prime minister during this Senate’s five-year term, which ends in 2023. To be elected, a PM candidate needs majority support from both Houses.

‘Irresistible offer’

However, Wanwichit reckons it will not be easy for Palang Pracharath and its affiliate parties to win their targeted number of House seats. He predicts the ruling party will make an all-out effort to get as many MPs as possible to back Prayut, including those from its current coalition partners.

“The 3Ps may have to make an irresistible offer to Bhumjaithai” in exchange for its support for Prayut, the analyst said.

He added that Bhumjaithai was on course to win many seats in the next election, perhaps even more than Palang Pracharath.

Wanwichit said Bhumjaithai had a better chance of winning in its Central and lower Northeast strongholds, which explained why it has come under heavy attack from the opposition Pheu Thai Party, a rival in those regions.

United or not?

Two of the affiliate parties – United Thai Nation and Thailand Together – reflect the rift between Prayut and Anupong on one side and Prawit on the other, according to some observers.

Supporting this theory are reports that Prawit, the Palang Pracharath leader, could become the next prime minister with support from Thailand Together, which is led by his trusted man.

Wanwichit, however, is convinced that the 3Ps will continue to band together and support Prayut as the next government leader.

Military presence in politics ‘outdated’

For Wanwichit, political parties run by retired military commanders or senior civil servants, like Vitch’s Thailand Together, are relics of the past and no longer relevant in the Thai politics of the present day.

“I don’t think voters would support such a party. It’s the end of an era for that kind of political party. Haven’t they learned any lesson from Gen Sonthi’s Matubhum Party?”

He was referring to Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin, the former Army chief who led the September 2006 coup which ousted Thaksin Shinawatra’s government.

Matubhum, which means “motherland”, was founded in November 2008. Sonthi joined the party a year later and immediately became its leader.

However, the coup-maker led the party to a disastrous result in the first election after his putsch, winning only two MP seats in the 2011 national vote. Thaksin’s proxy Pheu Thai Party won a decisive victory and installed his younger sister Yingluck as prime minister. Matubhum was left in the opposition.

In October 2018, Matubhum’s executive board resolved to terminate the party, which was duly dissolved by the Election Commission two months later.

Observers pointed out that Matubhum’s demise was caused by a lack of financial support.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk

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