Thamanat Prompow, secretary-general of the ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), denies he orchestrated a clandestine move to oust Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha.
A manoeuvre to topple Gen Prayut was reportedly engineered this week and involved PPRP heavyweights including Capt Thamanat and some renegade members of the ruling party, as well as a coalition of micro parties and politicians in the main opposition Pheu Thai Party.
They colluded in a plan to cast no-confidence votes against Gen Prayut. The votes are believed to also have come from "cobra" or dissenting MPs of the coalition Democrat and Bhumjaithai parties, said a government source.
A leadership change would force the formation of a new coalition government made up of the PPRP, the Pheu Thai and micro parties.
The motive of the push to replace Gen Prayut and rebuild a government was ultimately to culminate in a cabinet reshuffle, where certain key politicians in the PPRP, who are now deputy ministers, would be elevated to full ministers of A-grade ministries.
The rest of the cabinet seats would also be allocated to other parties in the new line-up.
According to news reports, the alleged collusion to purge Gen Prayut through censure votes had taken place three days prior to the four-day no-confidence debate that commenced on Tuesday. Gen Prayut is the prime target of the debate that centres largely on the government's failures to manage Covid-19 and corruption.
The government source said the revolt initially drew around 40 MPs, although Gen Prayut's supporters in the coalition have managed to convince more than half of the MPs to backtrack. Their votes were crucial for Gen Prayut surviving the censure motion.
Capt Thamanat, also a deputy agriculture minister, dismissed reports he had lobbied MPs to turn against the prime minister.
"I was not doing anyone favours by lobbying or rounding up MPs from other parties to vote against anyone. I would never do that," he said.
All he has heard from some fellow PPRP politicians was that the leader of a small party was bankrolling the ouster move by offering 10 million baht to government MPs to cast no-confidence votes against Gen Prayut.
The House of Representatives are due to vote on the censure motion on Saturday.
Capt Thamanat admitted, however, that under the constitution, the MPs were free to vote whichever way they pleased in the no-confidence session. Even their parties cannot dictate the votes.
He has threatened legal action against those behind the fake news that vilified him.
Meanwhile, Stithorn Thananithichote, director of the Office of Innovation for Democracy at King Prajadhipok's Institute, told the Bangkok Post he believed Gen Prayut was fully capable of countering the revolt.
"The underlying question is if Gen Prayut lost his prime minister seat, who would succeed him? The choice isn't exactly overwhelming," he said.
"It would take dissent from a huge number of people across the social spectrum and a disunited military to show Gen Prayut the door."