Apec ends, MPs sharpen knives
Now summit's over, the jockeying begins
With the Apec summit now over and the House of Representatives entering its final stretch, the political temperature is set to rise with a number of issues to be closely watched.
First among them is which political party Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, widely seen as leader of the conservative camp, will bring into the battle with the liberal camp led by the Pheu Thai Party and the Move Forward Party.
The Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party, or the United Thai Nation (UTN) Party led by Pirapan Salirathavibhaga, has made itself clear that it is ready to welcome Gen Prayut, who was the sole prime minister candidate of the ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) in the 2019 polls, into its fold.
Gen Prayut's decision is likely to shape the political landscape ahead of the next polls tentatively scheduled for May next year. If he decides to seek re-election under the UTN, some PPRP members may defect.
Another is a showdown between coalition partners, the Bhumjaithai Party and the Democrat Party, over the Cannabis and Hemp Bill which will be up for deliberation in its second and third readings next week.
The Democrat Party insists cannabis should be reinstated as a narcotic drug and this puts the party on a collision course with Bhumjaithai, which has sponsored the bill. Gen Prayut, as head of the coalition government, is expected to intervene and resolve differences between the two parties in an amicable manner.
A planned general debate by the opposition which is expected to take place near the end of the House's term may cause some damage to the government although no censure votes will be cast that could threaten the government's survival.
A cabinet reshuffle may take place even though the House's term will officially end in late March.
The Democrat Party has sought a reshuffle, nominating Naris Khamnurak, an MP for Phatthalung, to replace Niphon Bunyamanee, who was forced to quit to fight corruption charges in court, as deputy interior minister.
The PPRP is reportedly eager to fill the two seats left vacant by Capt Thamanat Prompow and Narumon Pinyosinwat, who were removed from the cabinet last year for allegedly plotting against the prime minister.
A cabinet rejig, however apparently insignificant, could give political advantages to certain coalition parties, political observers said.
Last but not least is whether the anti-government street protests launched during the Apec summit will gain momentum and hasten the end of this government. It remains to be seen when the UTN Party will invite Gen Prayut to join, despite Mr Pirapan's protestations to the contrary.
It is reported that the UTN has held talks with a number of PPRP MPs under the wing of the Labour Minister Suchart Chomklin who may defect if Gen Prayut jumps ship to the UTN.
As well as waiting for the Constitutional Court's ruling on two organic bills on the election of MPs, both Gen Prayut and PPRP leader Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, are also doing their maths with regard to the support they can drum up for a prime ministerial bid.
Meanwhile, Sam Mitr group member Anucha Nakhasai, the PPRP's secretary-general, said as of right now he is with the party, but the powerful faction has yet to decide its course.
Chart Thai Pattana leader Varawut Silpa-archa said on Monday that things would become clear after the Apec meeting and the political situation would be shaped by the prime minister's decision.
Meanwhile, Veerakorn Kamprakob, a veteran PPRP MP for Nakhon Sawan, has already expressed doubts that Gen Prayut will return as the premier if he decides to vie for the post under the UTN.
The MP said it is possible that the UTN may not even win as many as the 25 seats necessary to be eligible to nominate a prime minister for parliament to select.
And that would rule Gen Prayut out of even running in the vote for PM.