On Thursday, Thailand will get a new prime minister from the coup-installed National Legislative Assembly (NLA), with many observers tipping the junta head for the top job.
Observers believe it will be a big day for military regime leader Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, given the widespread speculation the NLA will name him as next prime minister.
Aug 21, which is also Queen’s Guard Day, is said to be an auspicious day for Gen Prayuth regarding his military career.
The Queen’s Guard unit or the 21st Infantry Regiment in Chon Buri which was established on this day by Her Majesty 64 years ago is the place where Gen Prayuth and top army ex-bosses, such as Gen Prawit Wongsuwon and Gen Anupong Paojinda, began their careers.
As young officers the three stayed at a small wooden house, called the single men’s house or tigers’ house, in the regiment.
They climbed to the top of the army together, from junior-level officer rank rising respectively to commanders of the 2nd Infantry Division (King’s Guard) based in the eastern province of Prachin Buri, widely known as the Burapha Payak group.
If Gen Prayuth were to take the job today it would mark a high honour for those former Queen’s Guard officers, in particular the three “Big Ps” — Gen Prawit or Big Pom, Gen Anupong or Big Pok, and Gen Prayuth.
Gen Prayuth, a keen loyalist, attaches high importance to the month of August, the birth month of Her Majesty, and the Queen’s Guard Regiment. For this reason, he chose to make his first public appearance on Mother’s Day this month, more than two months after he seized power.
August is also the month the junta launched many reform packages, and its roadmap back to democracy.
It’s expected Gen Prayuth will be out of Bangkok as the NLA selects him as prime minister, leading an event to mark Queen’s Guard Day at the regiment in Chon Buri just as he has in previous years.
Gen Prawit and Gen Anupong are likely to be there too, as well as Gen Udomdej Sitabutr, deputy army chief and a Queen’s Guard soldier who is tipped to replace Gen Prayuth as army chief.
While Gen Prayuth is officiating the event in Chon Buri, the NLA will be voting for a new prime minister with Gen Prayuth as the prominent choice. It remains to be seen if he will accept the position.
The general had said earlier he does not want the job, saying variously that he is already tired, and would prefer the role of someone who oversees the government’s performance.
But the show of reluctance could be just an attempt to protect his image.
Some say it would be inappropriate for a coup-maker also to take the role of prime minister.
However, polls suggest many Thais who are fed up with political turmoil want the NCPO chief to become the next prime minister and get the country back in order.
It’s apparent that people like Gen Prayuth for his strong leadership and decisiveness — qualifications needed for a country in a politically unstable situation.
Gen Prayuth, during his budget bill speech on Monday, said that the country is far from being normal.
An incident in which unknown parties scattered anti-coup leaflets in front of army headquarters in Bangkok and some areas of Nonthaburi attests to that abnormality.
The general says his opponents are playing a waiting game as they know the NCPO intends to stay in charge for one year. They know they do not have to put up much resistance as the junta has set a deadline on the time it wants to stay in power.
Perhaps by sheer coincidence, the day Gen Prayuth staged the coup on May 22 was also the anniversary of the day the Queen’s Guard regiment lost its top officer, Col Narongdet Nantapotidet, who died from a heart attack in 1985.
He designed a Queen’s Guard course attended by Gen Prayuth.
Aug 21 is therefore an auspicious day for a prime minister with a Queen’s Guard background — except if Gen Prayuth were to make a surprise decision not to accept the premiership. He could send a signal to the NLA about who he would rather do the job instead.
Others who might take the job are Gen Prawit, one of the NCPO members, or even a civilian.
If that is the case, Gen Prayuth can still use special powers under Section 44 of the interim charter to oversee the government.
But if the NCPO chief says “yes”, it would herald a golden era for Queen’s Guard soldiers.
Wassana Nanuam is a senior news reporter covering military affairs for the Bangkok Post.