Is this the countdown to implosion?

Is this the countdown to implosion?

In this Feb 22 photo, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha gestures during a major campaign event in Bangkok. Patipat Janthong
In this Feb 22 photo, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha gestures during a major campaign event in Bangkok. Patipat Janthong

The profound rifts between coalition partners over cabinet seats make political analysts believe it's unlikely the government of Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha will complete its four-year term. For many, the new administration is likely to last one or two years at the most.

These conflicts have been blamed for the delay in the formation of the coalition.

Over the past few weeks, domestic news media has been occupied with reports about the row between the Democrats, the largest coalition partner, and the Sam Mitr group, which is a major faction in the PPRP, over the agriculture portfolio as well as the war of words between the PPRP spokesman and Anutin Charnvirakul who was eyeing the top position at the transport ministry. The former offended the Bhumjaithai leader with a terse statement that the position should be given to people who want to work for the country, and is not something his family should take advantage of for their construction business.

Even single-seat parties have exercised their bargaining power as they know a government with a slim majority direly needs their support.

During the coalition-forming process over the past weeks, we witnessed the old political games in which politicians tried to maximise their benefits. Some media outlets likened the bickering to a dog fight.

Such greed has led to the downfall of several governments before. As old politicians continue to hold on to that same old mindset, the Prayut government may end up suffering a similar fate.

It could be a bad omen that the new government has faced a political cake-sharing crisis with its coalition partners, and also within the PPRP itself, before it has even started working. This threatens coalition unity tremendously. Internal conflicts within the PPRP have led Gen Prayut to think about taking the role of party leader -- instead of playing the role of outsider PM -- in order to ensure party members behave.

Some political analysts see the PPRP, which was set up in less than a year, as an "ad hoc" party designed to serve as an instrument for the military regime's prolonged stay in power. Several even compare it with the now-defunct Samakki Tham (Justice Unity Party), which was formed in 1992 to muster support for the then coup-maker Suchinda Kraprayoon in his ambition to become PM. Gen Suchinda's premiership lasted only 47 days before he was forced to step down in disgrace following the May 1992 uprising.

Both Samakki Tham and the PPRP share some characteristics. They comprise several influential political factions. Samakki Tham was led by Narong Wongwan, who pledged alliance to the Gen Suchinda regime during the poll campaign. Political parties then were divided into two sides: Those in the pro-democracy camp were labelled "angels", while those in the other were "demons".

With 79 seats, Samakki Tham beat Chart Thai, which gained 74, and was in a position to form a coalition with four small parties. However, the veteran politician withdrew himself from being a PM candidate following news reports that he had been blacklisted by the US over an alleged narcotics issue. The party then gave its support to Gen Suchinda who faced strong resistance from the pro-democracy group.

After the May 1992 bloodbath, Samakki Tham met the same fate as Gen Suchinda. It ceased to exist and changed its name to Therd Thai in order to whitewash its image as a "demon" party. But it failed to field any candidates in the later election and was eventually dissolved.

When compared to the ill-fated Samakki Tham, the PPRP appears to have been a success, winning 116 seats and coming top in the popular vote. But that will not ensure the PPRP can remain a big party in the next election. Its March 24 poll victory was attributed to a large extent to Gen Prayut's popularity and also that of veteran politicians who defected from their old bases to join the PPRP, as well as solid support from the military.

The PPRP's weakness lies in the fact that there are too many factions, including Sam Mitr (20-30 members); a clique under Capt Thammanat Prompao, an aide of Prawit Wongsuwon (over 10); the southern faction (13); the Chon Buri faction of the Khunplume family (6); the Kamphaeng Phet faction (5); a group with the former PRDC under Nataphol Teepsuwan and Buddhipongse Punnakanta, which controls the Bangkok base (10-20); the Phetchabun faction under Santi Prompat (6); and those close to Somkid Jatusripitak, and PPRP leader Savanayana, as well as the military clique under the control of Gen Prayut, Gen Prawit, and the NCPO.

Gen Prawit is the PPRP key man who has been behind all the political deals that were sealed at his forest complex covering Five Provinces Foundation. All would have gone well if some factions had not tried to renege and maximise their own benefits.

It should be noted that there is no No.2 leader in the PPRP and all depends on Gen Prayut who has both strengths and weaknesses. After five years in absolute power, Gen Prayut, as new PM, is faced with fresh challenges in the form of checks and balances. He must convince everyone in the coalition that he's in charge and all the infighting must stop, so he can move the country forward.

After an unimpressive start -- the bickering between coalition partners and ministerial candidates with dubious images -- Gen Prayut has his work cut out to ensure his administration is free from corruption, because, if he fails, his popularity will drop, and the PPRP will face breakup.


Chairith Yonpiam is assistant news editor, Bangkok Post.


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