Don't rule out Pheu Thai-PPRP coalition
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Don't rule out Pheu Thai-PPRP coalition

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Deputy PM Gen Prawit Wongsuwon at a parliamentary session in July. (Photo: Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Deputy PM Gen Prawit Wongsuwon at a parliamentary session in July. (Photo: Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)

Attempts by the Pheu Thai Party to flirt with the ruling Palang Pracharath demonstrate the long-standing bond between fugitive ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon.

Pheu Thai leader Dr Cholanan Srikaew said his Pheu Thai party stands ready to form a government with PPRP after the next election if the latter agrees to dump Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

This is not the first time the opposition bloc leader tried to court Gen Prawit, who is also a leader of the ruling party. During the time that Gen Prayut's future was uncertain over his controversial tenure limit, Pheu Thai offered Gen Prawit its support as a replacement for the embattled PM.

Pheu Thai probably realises that, while it stands a chance of being No.1 in the forthcoming political battle, a landslide victory is too distant and the chances of it forming a government on its own are too slim. Besides, there exist a number of challenges under the junta-sponsored constitution for the opposition, particularly when it comes to winning support from the 250-strong Senate for its premier candidate.

The party is required to secure a minimum of 376 votes -- including 250 from the Senate -- from parliament for its candidate, believed to be Paetongtarn Shinawatra, for the top job.

Not to mention that the party has limited choices for partnership. It cannot see eye to eye with the Move Forward Party, the current opposition partner, as MFP is set to be a major rival, given the fact that the two parties have to compete for the same support base, as well as MFP's stance on monarchy reform and the lese majeste law. The party cannot join forces with the Democrats, who have a strong anti-Thaksin stance, either.

Under such circumstances, Bhumjaithai is the most likely friend in need, while the PPRP, which is expected to be downgraded to a middle-sized party, is another possibility, should the party agree to ditch Gen Prayut. Without Gen Prayut, the party's image as a pro-military entity will be not so strong. As a smaller party, the PPRP is not in a position to be choosy.

Gen Prawit, who, unlike the PM, earns respect from PPRP members, is seen as a solid link if Pheu Thai approaches the ruling party. With regard to his wide connections with politicians, Gen Prawit seems to be worth his weight in gold. On top of that, he has a tight rein on the Senate and minnow parties.

Lest we forget, Thaksin and Gen Prawit are known to be close allies. When Thaksin was PM, Gen Prawit rose to the position of army chief. In fact, he earned enormous trust from Thaksin and his then-wife, Ms Potjamarn, the iron lady of Ban Chansongla residence.

Of course, quite a few observers refuse to believe that Thaksin and Gen Prawit would form a partnership. Over the past years, the fugitive ex-PM lashed out at the junta which ousted the Pheu Thai-led government in 2014.

Thaksin used to mention in his Clubhouse forum that he was not close to Gen Prawit and didn't mention that he knew him in person. He promoted this perception because Gen Prawit is the bigger brother of Pol Gen Patcharawat, his classmate at the police cadet academy, and who many were aware Thaksin was close to.

Despite this, under the Thaksin administration, Gen Prawit steadily climbed up the military hierarchy from the commander of the First Army Region, to the deputy army chief and finally the army chief. Pol Gen Patcharawat became police chief when Samak Sundaravej, who was with the People Power Party, a Thai Rak Thai reincarnation, was premier.

Besides, the Thaksin-Prawit connection has become clearer over the last two years as the PPRP experienced turbulence.

Speculation ran rife about a power shift, especially during the no-confidence censure earlier this year following reports of secret deals he made with Thaksin during his trip to London that caused strains between him, Gen Prayut and Gen Anupong Paojinda. Yet, Gen Prawit staunchly denied such claims, saying he had no reason to see the fugitive.

Several must still remember a plot to oust Gen Prayut by Capt Thamanat Prompow, the then right-hand-man of the deputy prime minister, amid speculation that the PPRP would join hands with Pheu Thai. The plot cost Capt Thamanat his cabinet membership as Gen Prayut eventually axed him.

More importantly, Gen Prawit was said to have had a hand when members of the Shinawatra family emerged unscathed from legal difficulties, regarding his influence over most, if not all, independent agencies.

At the same time, Pheu Thai lost its alliance with the MFP when it showed reluctance to grill Gen Prawit during the past no-confidence censures. In one incident, the MFP accused the opposition bloc leader of doing a trick to help Gen Prawit survive the political grilling.

It's believed therefore that Thaksin is behind the party's decision, so as to foster a friendship with the former foe and benefit when the time comes.

Now, several observers are fixing their eyes on Capt Thamanat who was believed to have met with Thaksin during his recent trip to Dubai. Capt Thamanat might want to secure his return to Pheu Thai after his attempt to form a political party flopped.

Should he return to Pheu Thai, he would have a chance to play the role of matchmaker between Thaksin and Gen Prawit.

Needless to say, Thaksin is eager to make use of Gen Prawit, given his control over mechanisms that will be helpful to Pheu Thai, enabling it to emerge a big winner. Among them is his influence over the senate.

Gen Prawit has a few factors to consider. Due to the charter court's ruling, Gen Prayut cannot go on after 2025, while the PPRP has suffered a decline and is unlikely to make a comeback as a political heavyweight.

Under such circumstances, those who have ruled out a Pheu Thai-PPRP coalition may have to think again.

Chairith Yonpiam

Assistant news editor

Chairith Yonpiam is assistant news editor, Bangkok Post.

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