11 July 2024

The decision by the Constitutional Court to suspend Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha from active duty might have fallen short of the expectations of the opposition bloc and anti-government demonstrators, but should help lower the political temperature — at least for the time being, according to political analysts.

Businessmen and industrialists, meanwhile, expressed confidence that the current political uncertainty should not have serious effect on the economy as the country begins to recover from the impact of Covid-19 pandemic.

The Constitutional Court on Wednesday voted unanimously to accept a petition submitted by the opposition bloc for it to rule on Gen Prayut’s term of office as prime minister.  The court also issued an injunction that prohibits Prayut from performing his prime ministerial duty, pending its final ruling.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan is now assuming the role of acting prime minister amid questions as to what power he really has in his caretaker capacity.

The State Administration Act makes it clear that an acting prime minister “has the same authority bestowed to the person he replaces”. Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam on Wednesday also stressed that Prawit will be running the country with the full authority of a prime minister.

“He will be administering with the power of the prime minister.  He can even reshuffle the Cabinet or dissolve the Parliament,” Wissanu said in answering a question from reporters.  “But why would he want to do that?” Wissanu quickly added.

The opposition bloc and anti-government demonstrators have demanded an immediate resignation of Prime Minister Prayut who they believe have served out his eight-year term limit at midnight Tuesday. The demonstrators have also rejected Prawit’s role as acting prime minister and vowed to continue their protests.

Prawit has been a subject of ridicule by his critics in social media for his poor health.

But Paibul Nititawan, a deputy leader of Palang Pracharath Party, said he has full confidence in Prawit’s capability and knowledge of the affairs of the state.

“He has assumed the role of acting prime minister on many occasions before. I would say in term of experience and ability, he is second to none,” said Paibul, a staunch proponent of the Prayut government.  Prawit is the leader of Palang Pracharath which is the main party in the ruling Prayut coalition.

The 77-year-old former army chief is known as the “Big Brother” of the military top brass that seized power in 2014 and on several occasions designated was as acting prime minister whenever Prime Minister Prayut went on overseas trips.

Jade Donavanik, a well-known law expert at Dhurakij Pundit University, told Thai PBS World that the court’s decision to suspend Prayut from active duty should help reduce the political tensions at least for the time being.

“It has certainly taken the heat out of the situation,” he said, referring to the escalating street protests over the past weeks.

However, Jade suggested that even though Prayut can continue to serve as defence minister, he should play a low profile in order not to give the impression that he still calls the shots.

Meanwhile, several leading businessmen have played down possible negative impact on the economy and investments by the temporary departure of Prime Minister Prayut. They believe that the government under Prawit’s leadership will continue to implement all the policies it has initiated.

“The government should continue to function without any disruption,” said Kriengkrai Thiennukul, president of the Federation of Thai Industries.

While admitting that the current political situation may pose a challenge to the government’s stability, President of Thai Chamber of Commerce Sanan Angubolkul said it should not have any adverse impact on the private sector. “Our tourism and export industry is making a rebound and it should not be affected by the court’s decision,” he said.

By Thepchai Yong