PM's mood belies grim reality
Prayut set to face even more political brickbats if he returns as premier - With Jurin Laksanavisit chosen as Democrat leader, party must set course to chart its future - PPRP steps up efforts to lure 'cobra' MPs as race to garner coalition allies heats up
published : 18 May 2019 at 04:00
newspaper section: News
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha was in an unusually fine mood on Wednesday despite talks in political inner circles that the pro-regime Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) was struggling to build a coalition of parties large enough to form the next government.
But the premier's mood had some observers convinced that the PPRP was finally clearing the hurdles in forging the alliance.
However, the prospect of Gen Prayut returning as premier does not excite many political observers. What worries them is not so much the tough challenge Gen Prayut will face controlling politicians in the new government but rather his ability to step out into unchartered waters where he must manage the country's affairs with an expected wafer-thin majority in parliament.
A government dangerously prone to being defeated by the opposition in votes over legislation in parliament presents a cause for jitters for investors apprehensive about government instability, according to the observers.
The PPRP, which has nominated Gen Prayut as its sole prime ministerial candidate, may have got off on the wrong foot, running into a brick wall trying to put together a coalition government with less than half of House of Representatives members or 250 MPs.
The Election Commission (EC) later declared more than a dozen small parties were qualified to have an MP each and most of them have pledged allegiance to the PPRP.
Fierce critics of the PPRP felt a scheme may have been orchestrated to bend the rules regarding the minimum number of votes a party must earn to garner an MP. The PPRP-led camp has been the biggest beneficiary from small parties collecting an MP.
Thammasat University vice-rector Prinya Thaewanarumitkul said some people thought this was a plot and elaborate political manoeuvring to hand the PPRP-led bloc the mandate and legitimacy to run the country. The bloc stands accused of being the culprit.
Assuming the PPRP-led bloc occupies the government bench in parliament, Mr Prinya said he could not imagine what Gen Prayut could offer the 20 coalition partners that would keep them happy.
In his view, now marks the transition from regime rule to a democratic one and Gen Prayut does not look to be the best choice of prime minister for a number of reasons.
The academic explained the PPRP-led coalition is not likely to command a decisive majority while the confrontational nature of politics is taking a turn for the worse and being exacerbated since Gen Prayut is perceived by his rivals as a party to the political conflict.
The National Council for Peace and Order has been in power too long, with the major figures in the regime apparently staying on in the new government which has the PPRP as its conduit, he said.
The fact that the newly established Future Forward Party captured 80 MPs in the March 24 polls goes to show that many people want a political overhaul in the country. However, the political polarisation remains unresolved.
Gen Prayut will only become embroiled in more political conflict if and when he returns as premier, Mr Prinya said.
Democrats at crossroads
The Democrat Party elected Jurin Laksanavisit as leader this week, putting at the helm a political veteran from the South to get its house in order following the party's disastrous showing in the March 24 poll.
Mr Jurin, an 11-time MP, seemed to know what challenges were lying ahead when he presented his vision during the party leadership contest last Wednesday.
"Our party has to change. The era of Superman is over, now it's time for the Avengers. The party's superheroes have to come together and create the Democrat Avengers," he was quoted as saying, cashing in on the popularity of the Marvel franchise.
He won the leadership race with 160 votes from the 291 members who voted, followed by Pirapan Salirathavibhaga (102), Korn Chatikavanij (19) and Apirak Kosayodhin (10).
But political observers doubt that he was chosen for the role because the party is in urgent need of unity or for his stance on the formation of a new coalition government.
According to political sources, among the members most pleased with Mr Jurin's rise to the leadership is Chuan Leekpai, a party patriarch who twice served as prime minister. Mr Chuan, who commands wide and deep respect among members, is believed to have had a major influence on the contest.
The relationship between the pair, according to observers, is one of mentor and apprentice. It is Mr Chuan who saw Mr Jurin's potential and helped him get a break in politics.
After his political debut in 1986, the politician from Phangnga won back-to-back elections, having served as an MP both in the constituency and party-list systems as well as a chief whip in both government and opposition thanks to his sharp and eloquent style.
Mr Jurin's political career also has a lot in common with that of Mr Chuan: they both served in the PM's office and as ministers of education, public health, agriculture and agricultural cooperatives. They also both held the post of deputy commerce minister.
At 63, Mr Jurin is now the leader of the country's oldest political party, but at a time when it has just suffered possibly its worst ever election defeat. Its popularity has shrunk to the point where it now only holds 52 House seats, none of them in Bangkok.
The Democrats now have important decisions to make in the days ahead, most notably whether to join a coalition with the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), serve as an independent opposition or even work with arch-rival the Pheu Thai Party.
However, none of the options is straightforward, according to several key party figures.
"It will be unimaginably hard for the Democrats to live with it if the party joins hands with Pheu Thai," said a party source.
Equally, joining the PPRP-led alliance would likely not allow the party to push ahead with its own policy platforms because the PPRP looks set to keep all the A-grade economic posts in-house in addition to retaining many of current strongmen, like Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, Gen Anupong Paojinda and Somkid Jatusripitak.
Playing the role of independent opposition may also not be worth the trouble despite the party having led the opposition in the past. Critics believe that little could be achieved as a medium-sized party in the opposition camp.
However, it should be known by next week what the Democrats will decide.
Game on to lure renegades
The pro-regime Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) is making vigorous efforts to draw "cobra" renegade MPs from a political alliance led by the Pheu Thai Party as the two compete to form a coalition government.
The pro-regime front has gathered 137 MPs, compared with the 245 in Pheu Thai's proposed coalition.
The Democrats, with 52 MPs, Bhumjaithai (51), Chartthaipattana (10) and Chartpattana (3), totalling 116, remain undecided. Even if the PPRP succeeds in getting those four parties on board, its alliance would still only have a marginal majority of 253 out of 500 seats.
Still, the PPRP-led coalition should have no trouble voting Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha back into power given that all 250 senators appointed by the National Council for Peace and Order are expected to vote for Gen Prayut.
To select a prime minister, a majority of votes across both houses is needed, or 376 of the 750 parliamentarians. Gen Prayut is expected to return to Government House easily, given the support from the Senate.
But without a decisive majority in the House of Representatives, a coalition government formed under the PPRP would struggle to function and would need all its MPs present in parliament sessions to push through key bills, especially the crucial budget bill.
If such legislation cannot be passed, the House will be dissolved. Therefore, key members of the PPRP are trying both overtly and covertly to draw "cobra" MPs from the Pheu Thai-led front. Their main targets are Future Forward Party MPs, who are still rookies, a source said, adding that efforts are also being made to snatch MPs from the Prachachat and New Economics parties.
However, Pheu Thai secretary-general Phumtham Wechayachai expressed confidence that his party's MPs are loyal and remain committed to democratic principles. There will be few defections, Mr Phumtham said.
Currently, all eyes are on the Puea Chat Party, which is thought to be a spin-off of Pheu Thai and has the support of Jatuporn Prompan, leader of the red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, and Yongyuth Tiyapairat, a former House speaker and executive of the dissolved Thai Rak Thai Party.
Puea Chat, which has five party-list MPs, has been rocked by a conflict between Mr Jatuporn and Mr Yongyuth over the party's financial management, a source said, adding that the party is known to comprise one faction of MPs affiliated with Mr Jatuporn, and another led by Mr Yungyuth.
The source added that Puea Chat will be able to control all the five MPs, though there are two potential turncoats who may leave and join the PPRP. But the source believes the two will eventually think better of it.
The source said that the constitution allows MPs to vote for a PM independently and that nothing can be done about renegade MPs.