11 July 2024

Strategically speaking, there’s a huge difference between Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha being in the Palang Pracharat Party’s list of prime ministerial candidates and him waiting for a parliamentary “invitation” to serve as the post-election chief executive.

Obviously, both options would subject him to harsh ideological criticism, which could, however, be stronger in the latter case. Also obviously, the latter option is a lot more difficult in terms of parliamentary mobilisation.

The past few days have seen the Palang Pracharat Party repeating in increasing frequency that it wanted to nominate Prayut for prime minister. The man himself has been acting like a courted woman, who does not say a word but only gives a reassuring smile. But with related timeframes all set — like the royal coronation ceremony, talks on easing political restrictions, and even a tentative election date — Prayut will have to make his future publicly clear in the next few weeks, if not days.

Numerically, it’s easier for him to be in the Palang Pracharat Party’s prime ministerial candidacy list than wait for a parliamentary invitation. The party needs to win a little more than 100 seats or close to 100 seats to be in a pole position when parliamentary election of prime minister is concerned. The number will be backed up by the 250-strong Senate, which will bring the sum very near the 376 votes required.

If Prayut is in this situation, where Palang Pracharat wins a substantial number of seats and he is solidly supported by the Senate, bringing some other parties to the fold will not be difficult. Suthep Thaugsuban’s Action Coalition for Thailand Party is definitely with him, although the former Democrat’s political appeal, immense a few years ago but waning alarmingly, will not guarantee many votes. There are, however, a few on-the-fence parties like Bhum Jai Thai, Chartthaipattana and Chartpattana, that can decide to join his bandwagon if the offers are good and his prospects are better than his rivals.

All these will put the Democrat Party in a really tough spot before and after the election. Thailand’s oldest political camp, which has vowed never to work in a Pheu Thai-led government but whose leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has been critical of Prayut, can end up in the opposition bloc with its arch-enemy Pheu Thai.

Before the election, should the Democrat Party declare its support for Prayut so it gets the usual anti-Thaksin votes, which are quite a lot? After the election, should the Democrat Party support him as prime minister and be in the government, or snub him and face very high risks of being in the opposition?

As for Prayut, he can choose not to be associated with Palang Pracharat and wait for an “invitation card.” The Constitution that was promulgated after his 2014 coup leaves the door open for an “outsider” to lead the post-election government. But Prayut will need to count on mainstream political parties failing to agree on who should lead the country. Considering Thailand’s political divide, such a deadlock is possible, but there are realistic chances of the conventional politicians ganging up against him and picking an alternative, albeit a non-divisive figure, from one of the on-the-fence parties.

The scenario of Prayut waiting for invitation is very unlikely in the eyes of political analysts. In addition to the possibility of an on-the-fence party getting the windfall, at least 500 MPs and senators out of a combined 750 must agree that they are facing a deadlock and need an “outsider” to lead the nation. The required number is huge.

So, Prayut and Palang Pracharat seems a marriage waiting to happen. The question is not “Will he?” The question is how longer he will pretend that he has not whispered “Yes” already.