PM has aces up his sleeve ahead of poll
With the Apec Summit over, the focus from now on is Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and two issues. The first is when will he join a political party to contest the next election and the second is when will he dissolve the House of Representatives.
Rumours were rife last week that the prime minister had informed Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, also leader of Palang Pracharath Party, of his decision to join the Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party or the United Thai Nation Party (UTN).
But when asked by the media whether he had joined the Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party, he said briefly that he was considering. Pirapan Salirathavibhaga, the party leader, was equally elusive.
The prime minister has to join a party in order to be nominated as a candidate for the premiership for a second term and that party is definitely not Gen Prawit's Palang Pracharath. That is because most PPRP members consider him as a "spent shell" and want Gen Prawit to be their candidate for prime minister.
Keeping the answer close to his heart, Gen Prayut is unlikely to announce his decision to join the Ruam Thai Sang Chart until the time is right. After all, there is no need to rush either.
While keeping his opponents guessing, he continues to perform his duties, visiting people in one province after another like a politician canvassing for votes, but without a party's banner.
As to when will he dissolve the House to call a snap election, the prime minister is likely to do so later rather than sooner for a good strategic reason.
Since he is the only person who can dissolve the House, Gen Prayut will try to capitalise on this prerogative to his utmost political benefit. The louder the calls for House dissolution by the opposition parties, Pheu Thai in particular, the less the chance is of an early House dissolution.
Perhaps he may stay on until the end of his term on March 23 and, in the meantime, continue to score points by rolling out more economic stimulus packages to curry favour with the people. This will certainly cause a lot of frustration to the opposition parties.
The opposition may react by skipping House meetings to prevent a quorum to give the impression of a lame-duck Lower House as they have been doing. But such a practice will backfire on them rather than the government or the prime minister.
The Pheu Thai Party is likely to win the most House seats in the next election, with the new electoral format for the calculation of party-list seats. It is most active in organising political activities, with Paetongtarn "Ung-ing" Shinawatra the youngest daughter of Thaksin, steadily gaining in popularity, to the extent that the party is confident of a landslide victory.
But can the party keep up the momentum until the election next May if there is no House dissolution?
The next election will be fierce as the stakes are high. But some major parties are currently in disarray. The Democrats, for instance, are suffering from internal bleeding with several defections of veteran party members. Political observers have predicted the party may suffer another devastating defeat and may turn into a small party.
Palang Pracharath, the core government party, is expected be hit with another round of defections of more than 10 MPs when Gen Prayut joins the Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party. Gen Prayut's loyalists such as Labour Minister Suchart Chomklin and several other MPs are expected to join him.
To offset the anticipated departure of Gen Prayut's loyalists, Gen Prawit has signalled the return of renegade MPs led by Capt Thamanat Prompow.
Because of Capt Thamanat's tainted background and his recent connection with "grey" Chinese businessmen, his return may spell disaster more than boon. Perhaps, Gen Prawit may not care less as he himself was embroiled in the luxurious watch controversy several years back.
Being out of the corridors of power for eight consecutive years since the overthrow of the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra by the military, the Pheu Thai Party is yearning for a comeback.
It remains to be seen whether it will succeed or not even though most pundits predict that it will come first in the election.
Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.