Whatever Charter Court’s ruling, “General Prayut” will not go away easily

Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha leaves after his weekly cabinet meeting at the Government House in Bangkok on August 23, 2022. (Photo by Jack TAYLOR / AFP)

As if political pundits these days didn’t have enough to chew on, Prayut government’s top legal expert Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam on Monday opened what might seem to be a new political Pandora’s Box.

And it surely has added to the already heated debate on the political fate of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

According to Wissanu, even in the worstcase scenario in which he is forced out of office as prime minister as the result of a Constitutional Court’s ruling, Prayut Chan-o-cha will still be around in the Cabinet – not as prime minister but as defence minister.

But what was his point? Was Wissanu only trying to remind us that Prayut is currently doubling as prime minister and defence minister?  Or was he trying to stretch the imagination of political pundits who have been contemplating on Prayut’s political future?

Wissanu made it clear that whatever the ruling by the Constitutional Court on his term of office as prime minister, Prayut’s defence portfolio will not be affected.  That means Prayut will continue to attend the weekly Cabinet meeting and run the country’s military affairs without any disruption.

But that’s not the end of the story yet.

Protesters holding a poster that reads “Prayut get out” during a demonstration at the Government House earlier today.

Under the law on state affairs management, in the event that the prime minister becomes incapacitated for whatever the reason, the deputy prime minister will take over as provisional prime minister.  But the law states that if there are more than one deputy prime minister (there are now six of them), the Cabinet has to decide who among them will be appointed for the role.  However, if everyone of them declines, then the Cabinet will appoint a provisional prime minister from among the other Cabinet members.

And here is what the unthinkable can become possible – at least legally speaking.  Out of fears that the provisional premiership is too much of a hot potato under the current circumstances or for whatever other reasons, none of the other Cabinet members is willing to step forward. And the buck eventually stops with the defence minister.

Wissanu made it clear that constitutionally speaking, that scenario is not impossible.  Many legal experts agree with Wissanu but believe it’s a political long shot and flies in the face of all conventional political wisdom.

However, let’s not forget the old saying “Politics is the art of the possible”. And we know too well that Thai politicians have more than perfected it.

By Thepchai Yong

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