Academics: PPRP squabble risks early polls

Academics: PPRP squabble risks early polls

From left: Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha and Capt Thamanat Prompow (File photos)
From left: Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha and Capt Thamanat Prompow (File photos)

The ouster of an influential Thai lawmaker and his supporters from the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) in the ruling coalition may trigger an early general election and hamper Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha's ability to pass key legislation, including the budget for next year.

PPRP expelled its secretary-general Thamanat Prompow and 20 other MPs on Wednesday night, accusing them of "serious unethical behaviour." Capt Thamanat's rebellion is the biggest political challenge faced by Gen Prayut's nearly three-year-old government amid simmering public discontent about rising food prices and its handling of the pandemic.

Gen Prayut said on Thursday that the expulsions were the decision of the party executives and he was not involved with the process. He said he has "not given any thoughts to a cabinet shuffle or parliament dissolution."

With talks of an early election swirling for some time, influential Thai politicians are busy forming new parties and stitching new alliances even though Gen Prayut has repeatedly pledged to complete his full term that ends in March next year.

While the expulsions did not immediately threaten the government, Gen Prayut may struggle to survive a no-confidence motion likely to be called later this year, according to Punchada Sirivunnabood, a visiting fellow at Singapore's ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.  

"The party may think that by expelling the group of lawmakers and getting rid of conflict, it could make Prayut's position stronger," Dr Punchada said. "But in the long term, this could hurt them, and Prayut will likely be the one hurting the most."  

Gen Prayut sacked Capt Thamanat from his cabinet last year after a no-confidence vote in which he received fewer votes than some of his ministers, which local media said was the result of infighting within the ruling party. The main opposition party this week said it will bring a censure motion against the prime minister for his failure to tackle the pandemic, high inflation and other economic issues.

The bickering in the coalition "will speed up the moves toward parliament dissolution and toward a new election," said Paul Chambers, a lecturer at Naresuan University's Center of Asean Community Studies in northern Thailand. "The election will probably happen this year. Politicians are already preparing for it. We see Thamanat making moves and his enemies making moves."

PPRP deputy leader Paiboon Nititawan said on Thursday that the party needed to oust the 21 MPs to avoid "creating problems and conflicts" and insisted that the move would not affect the stability of Gen Prayut's government.

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