Prayut's pride will spell doom for the regime

Prayut's pride will spell doom for the regime

A no confidence motion? The second and third reading of the crucial 2020 Budget Bill? Bring them on. Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha wasn't kidding when he confidently declared: "Don't be bored with me yet, as I will be around for quite a while."

The government may only enjoy a slim majority in the House, but its political position appears stronger than ever. If there are any weaknesses, they all lie within the government itself.

Two things could possibly spell its doom. The first would be a further shift to the far right of the political spectrum. The second would be Gen Prayut's own ego and short fuse.

The opposition may have made a lot of noise and started a number of popular hashtags online, but it has mounted no real challenge to the government ensconced by the elite establishment and pro-junta constitution.

The main opposition party, Pheu Thai, has been in disarray. Its current leader, Sompong Amornvivat, has made no impact as the official opposition leader. The party's chief strategist, Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan, may be popular among urbanites but has yet to win over regions-based groups and factions within the party.

Ideologically, the party seems to be somewhat lost. What is it championing? Under the leadership of fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Pheu Thai was known for its pro-democracy, pro-proletariat, populist policies. Now, Pheu Thai still stands firm against military coups and dictatorship but beyond that, things become blurry. Its political and policy platforms sometimes appear like a hodgepodge of reactionary and leftover ideas from the Thaksin days.

The increasingly popular Future Forward Party (FFP) is pinned down. The party faces a dissolution charge, the ruling on which will be delivered later this month. Its leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, favoured by most respondents in a recent Nida poll as the man they would like to see as prime minister, could also be barred from politics because of a media shareholding case.

As shown by "cobra" MPs who voted against the party's line, the relatively young party seems vulnerable to defections. With the government in control of administrative power, it is like a powerful snake charmer that can lure any "cobras" anytime it wants to.

That does not mean the government is without any weak points.

The Prayut government built itself on a pledge to return to conservatism. Its only selling point -- from five years ago when the same Gen Prayut took power by force, until now when he has whitewashed himself as a "democratically-elected" premier -- is peace.

Stability, continuity and security are the pillars which underpin his administration. This so-called "stability" does not come without a cost. Constraints on free speech and alleged harassment of anti-government activists continue to make the news. A total devotion to peace, it seems, also means deficiencies on most other areas, especially the economy and bread-and-butter issues in particular.

A return to conservatism means maintaining the status quo. In a country known to be one of the most unequal in the world, maintaining the status quo also means keeping the nation's wealth in the hands of the rich, while leaving inadequate crumbs to the poor.

As people struggle to make ends meet, they don't have the energy to stir up political resistance. A semblance of peace was then achieved, but the question is, for how long? With a war in Iran looming on the horizon and the global economic downturn, how long will it be before all the anger about the hardship and inequality turn into widespread political discontent and protests?

By that time, the government's own conservatism could very well be its own curse. As opposition parties, especially the more liberal FFP, keep reaching out to pro-democracy groups and the younger generation who naturally are not fond of dictatorship, their progressive agendas will inherently prompt the government and its supporters to reinforce its traditionalist position and push itself further towards the far-right.

This will alienate the government further, eventually trapping it in an unpopular position facing resistance from the masses.

As pressure builds up, the PM's volatility could be the government's fatal flaw. Gen Prayut's impetuousness, his divorce from reality and tendency to lift himself up as a self-sacrificing hero while placing blame on everyone else, has corroded his leadership. That thousands of people have signed up for the "Wing Lai Lung" run is a testament of how unpopular the PM has become.

As the going gets tough, who knows when he will make a fool of himself or say something that irks the entire nation? It is just a matter of time before someone realises it's no use having an angry old man in charge.

Atiya Achakulwisut

Columnist for the Bangkok Post

Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.

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