Prawit takes the PPRP driving seat

Prawit takes the PPRP driving seat

Analysis: Deputy PM tapped to cement party status as 'institution', writes Nattaya Chetchotiros

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon

The Palang Pracharath Party's (PPRP) decision to appoint Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwon as its chief strategist appears to be a move to strengthen the leading coalition party and perhaps forge its status as a political "institution".

Speculation has been rife that Gen Prawit would assume a key PPRP role once the coalition was formed. The confirmation came from party heavyweight Capt Thamanat Prompow, though Gen Prawit has yet to officially take up his new post.

Weerasak Krueathep, a political scientist from Chulalongkorn University, said Gen Prawit's incorporation into the PPRP would not only bring unity to the factionalised party but also lay foundations for its future development.

He said unity of the PPRP, which is widely seen as a vehicle for Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha's return to power, has faced several tests since the March 24 poll as political groups fight over cabinet seats and even threaten to withdraw their support.

The academic said Gen Prawit, who was widely credited as the force behind the coup-appointed government, was now being mobilised for his "special quality" to unify factions.

Mr Weerasak said the cabinet's decision to hand political posts to several members of the PPRP on Tuesday was also part of plans to consolidate the party and mollify various factions.

Most of the beneficiaries -- including ministry advisers, secretaries to ministers and to deputy ministers, and assistants to ministers -- are former MPs.

He said the political appointments were likely made in exchange for support in shoring up a vulnerable Prayut government with a slim majority.

The coalition suffered a minor setback this week when the Thai Civilized Party led by Mongkolkit Suksintaranont announced its withdrawal.

"So everyone is being recruited to make sure that the coalition government stays [in power] as long as possible. What the party is doing is laying the foundations to become a [long-term] political institution. But the process is still at an early stage," Mr Weerasak said.

However, Pheu Thai MP for Nan Cholnan Srikaew reckoned chances were very slim that the PPRP would develop into a recognised political heavyweight to rival established parties.

In his view, the ruling party is merely a grouping of politicians from various parties with different political beliefs and faiths. Also, core members of the PPRP should engage in politics in a way that would promote wider public participation.

Instead, they had opted for centralisation of power, with policies such as the government's welfare scheme for citizens on low incomes in which card holders can only spend the subsidy at designated stores, said the Pheu Thai MP.

Dr Cholnan said it would be more beneficial if the government had opted for cash handouts, which would allow those on low incomes to buy what they needed anywhere and thereby boost cash flow in the economy.

According to the opposition MP, Gen Prawit's role will be limited to wielding his political clout to unify the PPRP and ensure no factions break ranks and threaten the coalition government.

Gen Prawit has always denied having ties with the PPRP, provoking scepticism among many political observers.

Suspicions he was heavily linked with the coalition's main party grew when he showed up at a seminar of PPRP MPs ahead of the parliamentary debate on the government policy manifesto. Gen Prawit's appearance sparked accusations that he was illegally wielding "outside influence" over the party and could be in violation of the constitution.

Activist Srisuwan Janya claimed the PPRP may have violated Section 28 of the organic law on political parties and thereby be liable for dissolution under Section 92 of the same law. Section 28 prohibits political parties from allowing outsiders to control, influence or guide activities in a way that affects the freedom of the party and its members.

Capt Thamanat later revealed that Gen Prawit had applied for party membership on July 19, before the party seminar.

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