Seconds out round two?
ABOUT POLITICS: PM sacking Thamanat may have brought closure to censure battle but war might not be over yet, observer warns | Despite their unity claims, separate trips by Prayut and Prawit are being seen as evidence of growing tensions between the once bosom buddies
published : 25 Sep 2021 at 04:00
newspaper section: News
If anyone thinks the tussle between Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) secretary-general Thamanat Prompow has blown over, hold that thought.
Thamanat: Down but not out
A second clash following the showdown that saw Gen Prayut sack Capt Thamanat from the cabinet may be imminent.
Capt Thamanat was fired for reportedly attempting to engineer a mutiny among PPRP MPs from his faction and those from several small parties to overthrow the prime minister in the censure debate at the start of the month.
After being booted out as deputy agriculture minister, Capt Thamanat went quiet, leading Gen Prayut's supporters into believing Capt Thamanat had lost the power struggle and was defanged.
A political source, however, said the opposite could not be truer.
In fact, the source believes Capt Thamanat will come back fighting which could result in a host of implications affecting the future of Gen Prayut and the PPRP.
In the days leading up to the Aug 31-Sept 3 no-confidence debate, news emerged of some 30 MPs in the Thamanat camp allegedly colluding with a number of small party MPs to vote against Gen Prayut, the prime censure target.
Capt Thamanat tried to deny accusations he was the mastermind behind the plot against the prime minister. In a press conference, he claimed it was a group of senior PPRP members working to oust Gen Prayut and they were pinning the blame on him.
But it later transpired that the prime minister was able to put two and two together. Soon after Gen Prayut survived the no-confidence motion, he proceeded to remove Capt Thamanat as deputy agriculture minister and his suspected co-conspirator, Narumon Pinyosinwat, as deputy labour minister.
Responding to his sudden fall from grace, Capt Thamanat said he and Gen Prayut were walking on different paths and hinted at the real possibility of parting ways and breaking away from the PPRP to form his own party.
Although Gen Prayut does not lead the PPRP and is known to keep his distance from the party, supposedly because he does not want to be mistakenly accused of trying to meddle with the ruling party's affairs, there is no denying his strong political following played a big part in the PPRP's success in the election which enabled the party to form the coalition government, the source said.
Now, with Gen Prayut and Capt Thamanat not seeing eye to eye, the fate of the PPRP, led by Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, hangs precariously in the balance.
Capt Thamanat has kept many in suspense over whether he would do the expected and bow out of the PPRP with a bang and either re-oin Pheu Thai, the party he left to co-found the PPRP in the first place or register his own party.
However, none of that has happened so far and might never happen. Capt Thamanat is so far sticking with the PPRP.
On Sept 15, the PPRP held its first major meeting of senior members since the censure debate. The appearance at the session of one person stood out and it has reinforced speculation that Capt Thamanat may have decided to stay put in the PPRP despite what is thought to be an irreconcilable fallout with the prime minister.
That person was Gen Wit Devahastin na Ayudhya, who was recently named chairman of the party's strategy committee, a post on par in recognition terms to that of the party leader.
The source said Gen Wit has retained close ties with Gen Prawit and backed Capt Thamanat as the party secretary-general. His appointment as chief strategist painted a picture of Capt Thamanat working to solidify his power in the ruling party.
But by staying put, he might be sowing seeds of discontent in the party as key factions, including the Sam Mitr (Three Allies) which co-founded the PPRP, may be eager for a restructuring of the party's executive board where their prominent members might get a shot at filling the party's secretary-general post, assuming Capt Thamanat is either sidelined or leaves the party of his own accord.
Also, the source said that with Capt Thamanat still wielding power in the PPRP, Gen Prayut might find the party is no longer worthy of his trust.
If that was the case, PPRP factions supportive of Gen Prayut and disenchanted by Capt Thamanat remaining with the ruling party may be tempted to opt for the drastic option of pulling out of the PPRP, setting up their own party and inviting Gen Prayut to be their leader.
Gen Prayut, after all, is believed to still have a magnetic effect on certain sections of the electorate, according to the source.
A tale of two visits
They have denied it in every way possible, but rumours about a strained relationship between Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon have refused to die down.
Tension is believed to be quietly brewing following Gen Prayut's sacking of Capt Thamanat Prompow and Narumon Pinyosinwat from their cabinet posts without informing Gen Prawit in advance.
Prawit: Showing political clout
Capt Thamanat, the Palang Pracharath Party's (PPRP) secretary-general, and Ms Narumon, the ruling party's treasurer, are known to be trusted aides of Gen Prawit.
Early this week when word spread that Gen Prayut and Gen Prawit would go on separate flood-inspection trips to different provinces on the same day, political observers were nearly unanimous in thinking the relationship between the pair had turned frosty.
Some political observers even saw what should have been routine trips as a show of political clout between them, pointing to the number of MPs who turned out to greet them where they were visiting.
Gen Prayut and two cabinet ministers, Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda and Labour Minister Suchart Chomklin, went to Phetchaburi with just five to six MPs in tow.
Gen Prawit, on the other hand, was surrounded by PPRP bigwigs and MPs led by Capt Thamanat and chief government whip, Wirach Ratanasate, in Ayutthaya.
Cabinet ministers spotted by Gen Prawit's side included Digital Economy and Society (DES) Minister Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn, Deputy Finance Minister and PPRP director Santi Promphat and Deputy Transport Minister Atirat Ratanasate.
When asked by reporters about their alleged strained ties, Gen Prawit dismissed the rumours as way off the mark and blamed the media for trying to drive a wedge between them. He also made another attempt to put the rumours to bed, saying: "Remember this. Only death will part us three [Prawit, Prayut and Anupong]."
According to observers, one reason why the rumours about the rift remain alive is that Capt Thamanat is still around and influential in the PPRP despite his removal from the cabinet over the alleged plot to overthrow the prime minister.
The former deputy agriculture minister stands accused of plotting to topple Gen Prayut by persuading MPs within the PPRP and smaller coalition parties to vote against Gen Prayut in the no-confidence debate at the beginning of the month.
Despite losing his cabinet post, Capt Thamanat has retained his party job and is believed to have demonstrated his party clout by mobilising PPRP MPs and cabinet ministers to welcome Gen Prawit in Ayutthaya.
According to a highly placed source in the PPRP Gen Prawit was possibly looking to use the big turn-out in Ayutthaya as leverage in a widely speculated cabinet reshuffle.
Rumours about a cabinet shake-up are circulating in the ruling PPRP. It is reported that Gen Prawit, also the PPRP leader, will recommend a major reshuffle involving cabinet posts under the party's quota.
The two posts left vacant by Capt Thamanat and Ms Narumon are still up for grabs and it's led some to think Gen Prawit may take this chance to make major changes to the party line-up, sending party heavyweights into overdrive.
The ruling PPRP has 10 cabinet seats and Gen Prawit has full authority over the issue. Gen Prayut has his own ministerial quota which includes the foreign and financial portfolios and the premier has always vowed to steer clear of those in the PPPR's pocket.
With a cabinet shake-up afoot, it is not surprising to see PPRP cabinet ministers hobnob around their party leader in the hope of getting on his good side and retaining their jobs, according to the source.
As for the MPs, they are doing the same to make sure the party endorses their candidacy when fresh elections are held, according to the party source.