PPRP has tough election road ahead
The Constitutional Court ruling that allowed Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to continue to serve the country as PM was hardly a surprise.
According to the Sept 30 ruling, Gen Prayut officially began his term as prime minister in April 2017, not 2014 when he actually took office as junta leader after staging a coup that toppled the Pheu Thai-led government. This means he remains eligible as a PM candidate until 2025 if his Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) can gather enough votes to form a government in the next election.
However, he cannot serve a full four-year term.
If parliament runs its course, the current government will complete its term early next year and the election will be held in May. But, there is speculation that the prime minister may dissolve parliament right after the Apec meeting next month. In that case, the election will take place sooner.
At first, political analysts believed that while the Sept 30 ruling was a compromise, Gen Prayut had no future in politics, given his shorter tenure. Initially, the verdict devastated the PPRP, as it effectively made Gen Prayut a bad sale.
Some politicians may find the PPRP unattractive because of the mandatory change in leadership within two years.
The PPRP realises this shortcoming as it would have to deal with challenges from other parties during the period while the new administration, under Gen Prayut, would be faced with constant instability.
Despite this, the ruling party and Gen Prayut seem to be regaining their footing and are mapping out survival strategies.
Even though Gen Prayut is no longer a good vote magnet, the PPRP cannot really discard him because it simply has no second-generation leaders.
In the previous election, Gen Prayut was the party's sole candidate for the premiership. Despite his declining popularity, some elements in the party think that Gen Prayut can still appeal to voters in the next election, particularly those on the conservative side, amid polarisation and the challenge of new powers like the opposition Move Forward Party.
Gen Prayut still has a political advantage over his rivals, given the support of the Senate he appointed, and this could secure his comeback.
At the same time, the party cannot place its hopes on its leader Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, given his poor image and health problems, while Pol Gen Chakthip Chaijinda, a former national police chief, needs more time to gain public support.
No matter how hard it tries, the PPRP will have to resign itself to one fact -- the party will not be as strong as in the old days.
Several members have apparently dumped the party for the Bhumjaithai Party.
It is speculated that the PPRP will not perform well in the next election. At best, it might get only half of the seats it won last time.
After all, this is not a surprise. The PPRP is a far cry from being a political institution. It's only an ad hoc entity, with close affiliations to the old powers while it has so far concentrated on the interests of its own clan rather than the public.
Gen Prayut should be aware that unless he considers a departure, he would be a key factor in further intensifying political conflicts.
Under his leadership, starting from the coup days, there have been abuses of the rule of law by several state agencies, including independent organisations, all to enable the general and his brothers-in-arms to gain the upper hand over their rivals, thus prolonging their power. With their endless greed for power, they paid lip service to the charter amendment process, which is currently in disarray.
Despite the grim outlook, Gen Prayut refuses to give up and would rather continue to walk the political tightrope, with support from the Senate which, according to Section 272 of the constitution, is given a five-year mandate in voting for a prime minister, together with MPs. This special power will last until 2024.
With such a scenario in mind, there is wide speculation that the PPRP, instead of proposing Gen Prayut as its sole candidate like the last time, may also submit the names of Gen Prawit and Pol Gen Chakthip as candidates Nos. 2 and 3.
And some observers have come up with the so-called "1+3" formula, which sees the Senate first vote for Gen Prayut after the election next year.
This scenario will see Gen Prayut run the country for just one year, before stepping aside and passing the torch to Gen Prawit, who with the Senate's backing, can serve the remaining three years.
That would be the last service the brothers-in-arms could perform before 2024.
This is just one scenario that is possible technically, but it will see the country plunge further into conflict. Some may think this is unlikely out of the belief that the ex-junta may not dare to do so.
However, if we look back, these men did several things many had considered unthinkable. Their dirty tactics in ditching the charter amendment effort is a prime example.
For the country's sake, Gen Prayut who has been in power for more than eight years should learn that enough is enough, and step down after completing the four-year term.
Even better, he should use the rest of his time correcting his mistake and resuscitating the charter amendment process.
The best way to do this is to organise a referendum on the charter, in tandem with the election, asking the people if they want a new one and follow their wishes.
Assistant news editor
Chairith Yonpiam is assistant news editor, Bangkok Post.