Prayut, Prawit still firm friends, despite the rumours

Prayut, Prawit still firm friends, despite the rumours

Despite rumours about a growing rift, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his deputy, Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, have not only maintained their camaraderie but also solidified the power of the regime.

It has been said among army insiders that the military government and the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) cannot function without one or the other general.

In fact, the May 22, 2014 coup would not have been achieved without the consolidated power between the two -- both core members of the so-called Burapha Payak or the Tigers of the East clique -- along with additional support from former army chief Gen Anupong Paojinda.

Wassana Nanuam is a senior news reporter covering military affairs for the Bangkok Post.

The two generals, however, have become the targets of rumours which stem from their differing views on several issues as set out in interviews.

Opportunists who spread such rumours realise this is one way to cause distrust between the two which could also help undermine the NCPO.

Gen Prayut and Gen Prawit have offered opposing views on several occasions.

For example, Gen Prawit appeared to take a stance of compromise stance on Khunying Sudarat Keyurapan's plan to hold talks with politicians on bringing about political reforms.

He only cautioned that any activities should not break the law. Gen Prayut made it clear he did not accept the idea.

"If they want to talk, I will be the one who arranges such a meeting. Now is not the time," said Gen Prayut.

The two were also at odds on a proposal to enlist vocational students who were involved in school brawls to serve in the army. The call was rejected by the prime minister who is concerned the students could tarnish the image of the military.

Gen Prawit's more compromising stance on politicians is understandable because of his personal connections with political factions including those of the Pheu Thai Party, including one with Khunying Potjaman Na Pombejra, ex-wife of Thaksin Shinawatra.

Those connections contributed to his rise to power in the army. Gen Prawit has known Khunying Sudarat for a long time, even though they are not close.

Claims the two generals are at odds centre on Gen Prawit's supposed ambition.

Earlier, a rumour arose about Gen Prawit being in talks with politicians and investors on setting up a political party.

On one occasion, the prime minister said he was faced with rising pressure to force him into reconciliation, but he would not bend.

The rumours may have worried Gen Prayut about the political ambition of his brother in arms.

Gen Prawit, however, brushed off the claims, especially his aspiration to become prime minister.

"With my advanced age, I will quit everything after finishing my work with the NCPO," said the 71-year-old general who insisted there are no rifts between him and the prime minister.

The general said he has no plan to establish a political party or enter politics. Nor has he been in talks about it.

"I once thought Gen Prayut could carry on with his job without me because he's a capable man who already has the help of Gen Anupong," he said.

He believes he must stick with Gen Prayut until they accomplish the NCPO's goals.

Observers noted the differing views showed a lack of communication between the two generals.

"I've never discussed with the premier which issues we should talk about to the media and how we should frame our opinions about them," said Gen Prawit, insisting it's just a matter of differing views, not rifts.

Both talk on a daily basis about work and problems affecting the country.

Gen Prawit denied he had held talks with politicians about negotiating an amnesty to whitewash Thaksin Shinawatra of his graft conviction.

He said he has become a target of rumours even though he has done nothing.

His priority is to accomplish the NCPO's road map to democracy, he said. "After this, I'll leave. No more politics for me," he insisted.

The NCPO has no intention of staying on longer in power, unless there's still chaos or political turmoil, he said, because they are all professional soldiers who still have to work in their retirement.

The camaraderie among Gen Prayut, Gen Anupong and Gen Prawit has developed for 30-40 years under the wing of the 21st Infantry Regiment. Gen Prawit insisted such bonds cannot be broken.

"We haven't had any rifts or conflicts. We may have different opinions but they don't constitute conflicts among us," he said.

"I want to warn those who wanted to kick up trouble between us not to even think about it."

Wassana Nanuam

Senior news reporter

Wassana Nanuam is a senior news reporter covering military affairs for the Bangkok Post.

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