Knocked off their perch

Knocked off their perch

ABOUT POLITICS: The once all-powerful ultra-conservatives are in a fight for survival now their big three guardians have faded away v Thaksin's meeting with Hun Sen has set tongues wagging over how much influence paroled ex-PM will have over the govt

Thamanat: Next PPRP leader?
Thamanat: Next PPRP leader?

The ultra-conservative camp, once an unrivalled, dominant force, may be on its way out.

The curtain looks to be coming down on the once-mighty bloc ruled by the Three Por generals -- former prime minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, former deputy prime minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwon and former interior minister Gen Anupong Paojinda. They belong to the Burapa Phayak (Tigers of the East) elite military clique attached to the 2nd Infantry Division, the Queen's Guard.

For almost a decade, these generals held sway in the corridors of power before the rapid surge in popularity of the Move Forward Party (MFP) edged out the ultra-conservative parties in the election last year.

The election result was a wake-up call for Gen Prayut, who saw no prospect of becoming premier again and left the United Thai Nation (UTN) Party he co-founded in the hands of its leader, Pirapan Salirathavibhaga.

The aftermath of the polls may have witnessed the anointment of Pheu Thai as a neo-conservative party tasked with fending off the MFP, dubbed the vibrant, up-coming political actor bent on charting the country's future.

However, the future of the ultra-conservative parties could be hanging in the balance. The parties proudly wearing the ultra-conservative badge are none other than Palang Pracharath (PPRP), the former ruling party, and the UTN.

The UTN broke away from the PPRP along with Gen Prayut, who reportedly did not get along with the PPRP's MPs.

Some observers said it might be delusional to think the PPRP is impervious to change after it joined the Pheu Thai-led administration. Critics have questioned whether the PPRP's conservatism has ebbed, not on account of it taking part in the government but its internal shake-up.

All roads led to the PPRP when it was the ruling party in the Prayut Chan-o-cha administration. After last year's poll defeat, the PPRP, headed by Gen Prawit, was relegated to a medium-sized party whose political influence has shrunk considerably.

The centre of power has shifted away from the party and, with that, Gen Prawit's influence over party members, according to a source.

The running of the party now rests with PPRP secretary-general, Capt Thamanat Prompow, who also doubles as agriculture minister. The Agriculture Ministry has long been regarded as an A-grade one with a big budget and a multitude of development projects to be approved, which a policy-maker can capitalise on.

Capt Thamanat, now commanding one of the biggest ministries, is well-positioned to eclipse Gen Prawit's prominence in the party. He is even rumoured to be the PPRP leader-in-waiting as Gen Prawit's days at the party's helm are numbered.

Some sceptics are uncertain if Capt Thamanat or the PPRP under his leadership will remain as committed to the ultra-conservative cause.

At the same time, the UTN, another major conservative party, is going through a rough patch amid the Srisuwan Janya attempted extortion scandal.

Serial petitioner Srisuwan Janya was arrested along with three alleged accomplices -- Yoswaris Chuklom, also known as Jeng Dokjik, Phimnattha Chiraphutthiphak, as well as Eakluck Wareechol -- and are believed to have played a major role in an alleged attempt to extort Rice Department director-general Natthakit Khongthip.

Mr Yoswaris was a member of a civil servant working group appointed by Mr Pirapan in his capacity as deputy prime minister and energy minister, while Ms Phimnattha is a former UTN election candidate.

Critics said the scandal is dragging the party's name through the mud and poses potential harm to the reputation of Mr Pirapan, who is now the UTN's sole PM candidate.

The party previously nominated Gen Prayut as its other candidate. However, after the former prime minister was named a privy councillor, his nomination is believed to have been invalidated to preserve his political neutrality.

That leaves the conservative camp with one last strong ally, the coup-appointed Senate.

Although the Senate last year succeeded in voting against Pita Limjaroenrat, then leader of the MFP, and scuttling his chance of becoming prime minister, its tenure comes to an end in early May. The Senate's power to co-elect the country's leader is stipulated in the provisional clause of the constitution.

What has made some senators aghast is the system being introduced to find their replacements. The next batch of senators will be picked from a cross-profession election.

Elections are where the MFP is expected to do well. Although the party is at significant risk of being dissolved over a recent Constitutional Court ruling that it sought to overthrow the constitutional monarchy via amending the lese majeste law, it is believed it will reemerge stronger as a new political outfit, according to academics.

The MFP could also witness people closely aligned with the party vie for and eventually clinch Senate seats.

It would seem the odds are not looking good for the conservative alliance. Even Pheu Thai could arrive at a point where it must decide between keeping and ditching its neo-conservative cloak in the face of the MFP's growing influence.

Pheu Thai might be compelled to make a choice -- if it can't beat them, join them.

The old boy network

This week's meeting between two former prime ministers, Thaksin Shinawatra and Hun Sen -- although described as a private one -- was a topic of interest among observers due to the pair's enduring power and influence.

Thaksin: Political role scrutinised

Former Cambodian Prime Minister Hun came to Bangkok on Wednesday to visit Thaksin at his Ban Chan Song La residence in Bang Phlat district, just three days after Thaksin was released on parole following a six-month stay in hospital due to various health issues.

According to Paetongtarn Shinawatra, Thaksin's youngest daughter, Hun Sen was concerned about Thaksin's health and had asked for a personal meeting.

Thaksin wore a neck brace and a sling on his right arm when he emerged from the Police General Hospital on Sunday morning. The next day, he was seen being wheeled in to report to the Office of the Attorney-General (OAG) over a lese majeste charge, with a senior prosecutor describing him as "too weak to walk".

While on parole, Thaksin faces travel restrictions and is required to report to parole officers every month. However, he is allowed to have visitors, with Hun Sen being the first high-profile guest.

Both former premiers are known to have longstanding close ties.

Hun Sen once appointed Thaksin -- who was in self-exile after the coup that deposed him -- as his economic adviser. Thaksin, together with Yingluck Shinawatra, his younger sister and another former prime minister, was seen at a party held in Phnom Penh on Aug 5 last year to celebrate Hun Sen's 71st birthday, almost two weeks before Thaksin returned to Thailand.

According to observers, Wednesday's meeting comes at a time when speculation about Thaksin's role in politics has risen. Thaksin is believed to wield huge influence over the ruling party, although he might consider going into retirement and washing his hands of politics.

Olarn Thinbangtieo, a political science lecturer at Burapha University, criticised Thaksin's meeting with Hun Sen, calling it inappropriate.

In his opinion, the public is aware of the power and influence Thaksin and Hun Sen have in their respective countries, and the meeting could have rubbed people up the wrong way, especially with Thaksin's role in Thai politics being closely watched.

The analyst believes Thaksin will assume a more prominent role within the Pheu Thai Party of which his youngest daughter has now taken the reins. Officially or not, Ms Paetongtarn will have her father as her chief adviser, a move that will effectively allow Thaksin to shape the party's direction and policies with zero opposition from the party management, he said.

According to Mr Olarn, Pheu Thai is divided into three main groups.

The first comprises party financiers who have already secured cabinet seats in the Srettha government.

The second, known as Baan Yai, consists of political families that have not yet been given the cabinet posts they desire. It is believed that this group will soon approach Thaksin to seek them and press for a cabinet reshuffle.

The third group consists of young politicians who currently have a limited role within the ruling party. Given the current circumstances, Thaksin is unlikely to grant this group more power in the short term, he said.

In short, all the ruling party's affairs will be determined by Thaksin, who may be on his way to embarking on political manoeuvring and strategic decision-making for the party, said Mr Olarn, who describes the job as a prime minister in charge of political affairs.

Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, meanwhile, will handle administrative duties and day-to-day routine work, including chairing cabinet meetings and representing the government at international forums.

Without a support base in the party, this role seems well-suited to his skills and background, according to the analyst.

He said the so-called double-PM phenomenon is a challenge to independent public agencies, particularly the Election Commission (EC), which is responsible for upholding political party law and ensuring fair and transparent political processes.

The analyst criticised the poll agency for not examining Thaksin's role and influence over Pheu Thai under the political party law despite its authority to do so.

"Thaksin tends to show off his political clout no matter what.

"Faith in the justice system has been further eroded following the VIP treatment given to Thaksin. The EC's authority is also being challenged. It has the mandate to restrict his role in politics but has taken no action," he said.

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