Premier's many hats leave voters' heads spinning

Premier's many hats leave voters' heads spinning

On Sunday at Korat, the prime minister is expected to become a full-fledged political campaigner for his Palang Pracharath Party.
On Sunday at Korat, the prime minister is expected to become a full-fledged political campaigner for his Palang Pracharath Party.

So what exactly is Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha? A state official? A public figure? A "Deep State" boss, or a shape-shifting entity that can come up with new avatars just as he pleases to stay ahead in the game of power?

PM Gen Prayut's multiple identities are not only causing public confusion, but they could make a mess out of the law and the March 24 election.

Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist, Bangkok Post.

The PM is tipped to start campaigning for the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), which nominated him as its candidate for prime minister, this coming Sunday.

Before that, the Election Commission (EC) ruled that Gen Prayut can join the party's campaign or help its candidates canvass for votes as long as he does not appear to abuse his current position as the head of the government.

The EC also cautioned the PM not to do any party or candidate any favours, or cast them in a negative light during his campaign.

It remains to be seen how Gen Prayut -- with his tripartite roles as head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), PM and PM candidate -- will handle such a fine, if not invisible line, when he hits the campaign trail.

How would he go about campaigning for the PPRP without appearing to do it a favour? Can he really say, "Vote for the PPRP to send me to the premiership", while remaining politically neutral?

If he can't say anything that would help the PPRP gain support, then what is the point of him participating in the campaign?

Is it to simply encourage to vote and choose well? Well, isn't that already his job as prime minister? This is all very confusing.

But then again, the EC's warnings may not matter.

If Gen Prayut clearly distinguishes the capacity in which he is speaking every time he talks on the campaign trail, then all is good. But with so many interchangeable identities, it will be impossible to catch him breaking any law.

Indeed, it is impossible to know what Gen Prayut's status at this point is. To justify the PM's qualification as a prime ministerial candidate, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam earlier said Gen Prayut is not considered a state official, as the charter bars state officials from running in the election.

Right after the comment by Mr Wissanu, the PM's Facebook page changed his profession from "state official" to "public figure".

The reality, however, can't be edited as easily as a social media profile. The PM's new status makes his multiple identities even more complex. If Gen Prayut is not a state official, why is he receiving more than 200,000 baht a month in wages as the head of the NCPO and the government from state coffers?

Gen Prayut also allocated billions of baht of budget during the past four years. Did he do it in his capacity as a "public figure"? What about the many decisions he made, and the state personnel he had removed or promoted? If he is a mere "public figure", are his decisions legally binding?

Does this mean the entire government and NCPO business that we have witnessed over the past many years are nothing but a hoax?

Also, if the NCPO is a temporary organisation -- as opined by Mr Wissanu -- does it mean it is a state within a state? Otherwise, how can we explain its continued existence and authority?

As Gen Prayut tries to make the best of whatever worlds he wants to conquer, conflicts of interest among the many roles that he created are becoming more intense.

As a PM candidate, he is supposed to be on an equal footing with others. But as both PM and the head of the NCPO, he is above them all, equipped with power to override any organisations, including the EC. All of this comes on top of his upcoming appointment into the 250-member Senate, who will then vote to choose Thailand's next PM.

This appears incestuous. The PM's multiple identities are making the election appear increasingly unfair. It seems Gen Prayut can take on a state official role when he wants authority, and another one as a public figure when he needs to appear neutral. Is this a clear case of double standards, multiple standards or no standards at all?

More importantly, Gen Prayut's tendency to assume whatever role that fits his political agenda is a mockery of the rule of law and common sense. Is he a prime minister attached to no state? Were the past four years nothing but a make-believe affair?

This game has become very confusing indeed.

Atiya Achakulwisut

Columnist for the Bangkok Post

Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.

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