Prayut's future increasingly unclear
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Prayut's future increasingly unclear

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha greets young boxers after he attends a 'wai khru' event, which set a Guinness World Record during a Thai martial arts festival at Rajabhakti Park in Hua Hin in February. (Photo: Reuters)
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha greets young boxers after he attends a 'wai khru' event, which set a Guinness World Record during a Thai martial arts festival at Rajabhakti Park in Hua Hin in February. (Photo: Reuters)

As the May 14 election countdown has begun, Pheu Thai continues to take a healthy lead, with a strong chance of winning a landslide or even an avalanche -- if it gets over 310 out of 500 seats.

At present, it looks like the party could easily grab some 250 seats. As widely speculated, it has a high chance of forming a government with either Paetongtarn Shinawatra or real estate mogul Srettha Thavisin as a prospective leader. But if it wins massively with 310 seats, as speculated by some, the military-leaning Senate cannot stand in its way.

Many pundits have speculated a coalition combination, including Pheu Thai as a core party with Palang Pracharath (PPRP), Bhumjaithai, or those in the opposition bloc except the Move Forward Party. There has even been talk about prospective cabinet portfolios.

As the politicians start their poll campaigns, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who accepted the role of a candidate for the premiership, has baffled some observers by declaring he would opt out of the race as a United Thai Nation list MP. Such a prominent position has instead gone to Pirapan Salirathavi­bhaga.

It is believed that the UTN could have list MPs in the range of 10-15, coming from about 3.5-5.2 million votes.

Gen Prayut's decision counters his previous statement that he aimed to make his UTN a genuine political institution, not an ad hoc party.

There were some reports earlier that the party did have a plan to field Gen Prayut as its No.1 list MP as it needed to shore up its portfolio following a major opinion poll that left the party in the cold, while Gen Prayut was held as the No.3 appropriate choice of prime minister.

Although Gen Prayut told the media that he decided to stay out of the MP list because he wanted to pave the way for his political heir, Mr Pirapan, as the party leader when he needs to leave politics in the next two years as required by the 2017 charter. Such a scenario is associated with the charter court's verdict last September that ruled Gen Prayut's eight-year tenure as PM started on April 6, 2017, when the current charter took effect.

But he didn't say that he has no aspirations to stay in politics should the UTN fail to win big in the forthcoming election, as suggested earlier in several opinion polls.

It's no secret that Gen Prayut only wants to win the top position. But now that such a scenario is obscure, he would rather quit. Lest we forget, Gen Prayut entered politics by staging a coup. He has no passion for politics and always looks down on politicians. In his view, politicians are troublemakers, and he has little time for freedom or democracy. He is a command and control guy who tends to achieve peace and order through oppression.

With limited time, Gen Prayut does not have to care much, nor is he ready for a role as an opposition MP. And he realises well that he has far too many enemies. It's believed that several politicians crushed for not kowtowing the military party may seek their revenge.

But if Gen Prayut exits politics, the UTN will face an uncertain future. That's because the newly founded party, a breakaway from the PPPR, was established especially for the ex-junta leader.

By any standards, the UTN is a loose alliance of political factions loyal to Gen Prayut. Some factions do not get along well. One faction is under Mr Pirapan, who welcomed some core figures of the now-defunct People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), like Akanat Promphan and Witthaya Kaewparadai. This faction earns a prominent place on the party's list-MP lineup.

Another camp is under Suchart Chomklin, who has some MPs in the central and eastern regions in his camp. Then there is Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana, who leads a group of southern politicians, and Seksakol Atthawonga. Meanwhile, those from the Palang Thong Thin Thai Party are under the control of Chatchawal Kong-udom, aka Chat Taopoon.

Then there is the PPRP, with Gen Prawit Wongsuwon at the helm, which differs from Gen Prayut's party. Though it's regarded as an ad-hoc party, the PPRP gives the impression that it's open to compromise. The party has not alienated itself from other political parties and instead acts ready to be a coalition partner with Pheu Thai in what is touted as reconciliation.

Gen Prayut, on the contrary, cashes in on polarisation and ongoing strife, often seen in his jaded patriotic rhetoric. This week, he even recited a century-old poem by King Rama VI, citing the need for unity, but nothing appears to have changed from the first day he entered politics.

Like it or not, it's too soon to say if the curtain has come down for the ex-junta leader, given the support from the Senate. In the end, it will depend on how the people exercise their voting rights.

Chairith Yonpiam

Assistant news editor

Chairith Yonpiam is assistant news editor, Bangkok Post.

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