PM's fate in big brother's hands

PM's fate in big brother's hands

Prayut has freed up Prawit so he can take on PPRP top job, write Wassana Nanuam, Aekarach Sattaburuth

In this file photo, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his deputy, Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, put their heads together as they discuss issues during the no-confidence debate in February. Chanat Katanyu
In this file photo, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his deputy, Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, put their heads together as they discuss issues during the no-confidence debate in February. Chanat Katanyu

The likely rise of Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon to the leadership of the ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) will be the binding agent which holds the party together and cements the hold on power by the "brothers in arms", according to a source.

Gen Prawit looks to be on his way to take over the leadership of the PPRP. Once firmly in control of the party, his role will further strengthen the positions of Gen Prawit himself, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda.

The three generals were close long before they entered politics. They have now combined forces to command the most powerful posts in the government; Gen Prayut as prime minister, Gen Prawit as deputy premier in charge of national security and Gen Anupong as minister overseeing civil administrative organisation nationwide.

Gen Prawit, the most senior of the fraternal brothers, in on course to manage the ruling party, as dust slowly settles over an internal campaign to oust the current PPRP leader Uttama Savanayana and party secretary-general Sontirat Sontijirawong.

Gen Prawit is the clear favourite to succeed Mr Uttama in the election of the party's new board next month. Many factions have openly voiced their support for Gen Prawit. He has relinquished the post of defence minister, in which he served concurrently along with the deputy prime minister post for five years.

The defence portfolio is now in the hands of Gen Prayut. Even though Gen Prawit is no longer defence minister, he keeps a hand in military affairs including meeting military intelligence officers twice a week.

While he is expanding his presence in politics, he is also maintaining firm connections in the military where he is held in high esteem, according to the source.

Gen Prayut decided to take the defence post from Gen Prawit to free him up to concentrate on running the PPRP. If and when Gen Prawit takes the PPRP's helm, he will not only deal with MPs but manage the ministerial posts in the party's quota to prevent disputes that could stir internal disunity, which would have spillover effect on the government's stability.

Gen Prawit will be counted to put his coordination skills and vast connections to work in resolving political issues and mending any rift in the coalition government.

It may the first time Gen Prawit has led a political party. However, his bonds with the movers and shakers on the political stage go back a long time. In 2002, Thaksin Shinawatra, prime minister at the time, kicked his cousin, Gen Chaisit Shinawatra, then army chief, upstairs to serve as supreme commander so Gen Prawit could be promoted to army chief.

The source said the ties between Gen Prawit and Thaksin may still be intact, which could explain the rumour about Gen Prawit being able to rope in some MPs from the main opposition Pheu Thai Party to help support the coalition government, which sits on a razor-thin majority, during votes in parliament on important motions and legislation.

Pheu Thai was reborn from the defunct People's Power Party, which had its roots in the disbanded Thai Rak Thai Party founded by Thaksin.

Whether Gen Prayut can complete his term as prime minister depends a great deal on how Gen Prawit plays his cards in politics and removing obstacles in the government's way. The government also has the solid backing of the 250 senators chosen by the coup-engineer National Council for Peace and Order, which has been dissolved. Gen Prayut led the NCPO, which toppled the Pheu Thai-led administration in May 2014.

When the PPRP was formed before last year's election, Mr Uttama and Mr Sontirat were in charge of the party. They brought some semblance of civilian control to the PPRP, which was attacked as being a legacy of the NCPO.

Even if Gen Prawit takes the job now, he could well look for a successor to replace him eventually, such as Gen Prayut. Gen Prawit, also the party's chief strategist, has provided help to various MPs. Paiboon Nititawan, the PPRP acting deputy leader, said Gen Prawit is the main pillar of the party. Although Gen Prawit said earlier he was not ready to be leader, Mr Paiboon said he trusted the deputy premier would accept the leadership.

Sira Jenjaka, the PPRP MP for Bangkok, said Gen Prawit is regarded as the "big brother" who is well-respected by politicians and state officials. "That description means something," he said.

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