What’s “Dirty job man” up to?

(Photo by Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

The question regarding Prayut Chan-o-cha and Thammanat Prompao is whether it’s a “mountain out of a molehill” situation or a “no smoke without fire” development.

In a world where Prayut and Thammanat are sworn buddies, nothing can hurt them in Parliament. In a world where they are open enemies, it will be a total state of flux, a romance-of-the-three-kingdom situation at its detrimental worst. Many would prefer either world, though, because at least things are clear-cut.

In this world, where all the cards have not been laid on the table, the game of brinkmanship will be at full swing, public anxiety will be persistent and supporters and opponents of both will have to be constantly on their toes. One wrong move can be disastrous. One wrong statement can expose hypocrisy and come back to haunt anyone big time.

A lot of people believe what happened before and at the end of last week’s censure debate was a glimpse. It is said that Prayut was being given a taste of what would be like without foolproof loyalty. Just how and who gave him the unsettling experience has remained unclear. Most of all, several news reports suggest that Palang Pracharath MPs did not break ranks when the censure vote was called.

But the Prayut-Thammanat “showdown” is a story that refuses to go away easily, not least because the former has no party of his own and the latter is fast rising to become one of Palang Pracharath’s most powerful men despite a controversial image. It’s the kind of image that puts pressure on the prime minister every time a scrutiny of the Cabinet occurs and calls for a reshuffle are made.

As long as Thammanat does not get a Cabinet post that “deserves” his growing party clout, and as long as the prime minister’s own Cabinet quota holds sway, conflicts between both men can explode any time. What is uncertain now is who is having the upper hand. Prayut needs Thammanat, but it’s also vice versa. As a party-less prime minister, Prayut can’t rely on the Senate alone, not when senators are being criticized for being part of a “half-baked democracy”. But out of Prayut’s wings, Thamanat can be the odd man out in the entire political landscape, divided as it is.

To Thammanat, joining the opposition is extremely difficult, if not entirely impossible. If Pheu Thai wanted to go easy on Palang Pracharath’s secretary-general or even welcome him, the party would have to do it over the dead body of its major “ally”, Move Forward. However, Move Forward would not be Pheu Thai’s only problem, as the biggest opposition party will have to deal with its own fan base, which accepted and embraced Thammanat before but seems to have turned against him completely now.

The opposition, particularly Pheu Thai, has gone too far to open the door for the Palang Pracharath strongman. Under Prayut, a court ruling in favor of Thammanat regarding his stormy backgrounds would only magnify the uproar on the streets. If the same thing happened while the other camp was in power, it would shatter its intended public perception and even legitimacy.

Censure debate signals end of Prayut’s ‘command-and-control’ leadership

Halfway through their government’s four-year term, Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha and his brothers in arms – Gen Prawit Wongsuwan and Gen Anupong Paochinda – apparently have no choice but to change tack if they want to remain in power.

Prayut’s rivals always use Thammanat’s political rise and high-profile status to support their claims that only a leader not truly representing the people can be oblivious to public sentiments toward certain characters. In short, Prayut can do it, but not them.

To be fair to Prayut, though, Thamanat was a product of democracy as we know it. He entered politics when that kind of democracy was in full bloom, joining Thaksin Shinawatra’s Thai Rak Thai Party, which even made him a party-list candidate. But for a nullification of an election in 2014, he could have been a Pheu Thai party-list MP under Yingluck Shinawatra as well. How far he could have gone from there is anyone’s guess.

He defected to Palang Pracharath after Prayut’s coup. Many in the pro-Prayut bloc did not like it when Thammanat was appointed to the Cabinet. The foreign media and activists mentioned his shady background and the Pheu Thai-led opposition jumped on it. He was a dream come true for any parliamentary opposition, because anywhere it looked, it found something to attack the government with.

Every business requires someone to do the “dirty job”, which is unpleasant but deemed “necessary” sometimes. Thammanat is “that man” in politics, who people don’t want to live with but hate to admit that they cannot do without. He is to Prayut what Newin Chidchob was to Thaksin Shinawatra. The only difference is that while Newin could settle for managing a soccer club after disavowing Thaksin, Thamanat is not done with politics just yet.

Plotting against Prayut can be the next mission to fulfill, some analysts believe. While that can be somewhat ironic, it’s not entirely surprising. What drives politics is basically four groups of people, metaphorically: The vegetarians, the meat-eaters who somehow can’t bear to watch the slaughter of livestock, the no-nonsense slaughterhouse, and the fast-food restaurants using cute cartoons of animals to whitewash and promote their businesses.

The question is not whether Thamanat is the slaughterhouse, which goes about its business in virtual disregard for political correctness. It’s who are the vegetarians, the meat-eaters and fast-food restaurants in Thailand. That’s a lot foggier.

by Tulsathit Taptim





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