Prayut given a test of what to come
Many say movie trailers are usually more exciting than the real films. For Prayut Chan-o-cha, however, the glimpse of what to come that he has experienced first-hand can be tantamount to a stroll in the park when the “real thing” does materialize.
He has seen, on a front-row seat, a trailer of a political thriller. Whether he was shaken by it is hard to say, but the situation was serious enough to warrant his public apology. The Government House’s unprecedented statement said he was sorry for conflicts within the Palang Pracharat Party over the Cabinet formation. Prayut knew the Thai public, who have been divided over his continued stay in power, must have been disappointed.
The situation threatened to go out of hand, with some Palang Pracharat MPs ready to kick Sontirat Sontijirawong out as party secretary-general. Whether Prayut’s public apology helped calm things down was debatable, but what followed it was an uneasy truce between rival Palang Pracharat factions. The anti-Sontirat campaign abated and trouble-plagued allocation of Cabinet seats drew to a close.
A prime minister’s political trouble does not end when a Cabinet list becomes official. Actually, the completion of a Cabinet formation is when the real problem starts. Disappointed government MPs will continue with their agitation and disturbances. In a worse yet highly possible case, they sneak damaging secrets to the opposition. The worst scenario has them rebel openly, shattering Prayut’s slim House of Representatives majority.
Prayut’s trouble has not peaked, thanks largely to the fact that his Cabinet has not been officially announced yet. When his team is unveiled and if it upsets the public, he can expect a full-blown crisis. In short, nobody will be on his side.
At present, he is fighting an opposition bloc hell-bent on unseating him. He will have to also look over his shoulder while doing so. The two-pronged manoeuvring will become three-pronged if he loses the section of the public that is still supporting him and currently thinking they should give him a chance.
The Thai public are generally divided into three groups. The first balks at him no matter what. The second backs him come what may. The third combine skeptical supporters and resigned doubters, all of whom deciding to give him a try.
All the three groups don’t have votes in Parliament, but they will determine, for example, if the opposition’s charter amendment push is relevant or not, or how “big” a political issue should be. If they don’t like Prayut’s team and realize that the only way for it to go is through political conflicts, the people can amplify every problem.
Prayut’s dilemma is that making the public happy requires action that can turn his political allies against him. When he ruled with full military backing and post-coup powers, he learned that keeping someone scandalous in the Cabinet lowered his ratings remarkably. He scraped through due to his special status, but things will not be the same in a more normal system.
The content of Prayut’s public apology, issued by Government House, and what he said to reporters directly suggested that he knew about the dilemma. But whether he is aware of it enough to do something about it, thereby ending an unhealthy give-and-take political tradition and embarking on a genuine reform, remains a big question mark.