Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan accepted, on Monday, the nomination to be the leader of the ruling Palang Pracharath Party. His ascension to the party’s highest post will pull back the loosely held curtain that had been in place for the better part of the last decade and shine a spotlight on Prawit’s central role in Thai politics.
For many who have covered Thai politics in that time, it has become more and more clear that Prawit has been the mastermind behind not only the military coup of 2014 but the turbulent nature of Thai politics since the Abhisit government stepped down.
While Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha has served as a ready ‘puppet’ in that time with his avuncular charm and his teflon-like like qualities in deflecting criticisms, it has been Prawit that has been the brains behind the operations
Prawit is, after all, the spiritual leader of the military faction known as ‘Burapha Payak (Tigers of the East)’ or the Queen’s Guard military unit.
Burapha-aligned Generals like Prawit, Prayut, Udomdej Sitabutr and Anupong Paochinda have played a central role in orchestrating, from behind the scenes, much of the political upheavals since the PDRC protests.
All four men have served as head of the army.
Prawit served as army chief at the height of the yellow-shirt protest against Thaksin Shinawatra in 2004-2005 and then was Minister of Defense during the red-shirt protests of 2009-2010.
Anupong served as army-chief during the same red shirt protest and led the crackdown on the protesters.
Udomdej was the army chief after the coup of 2014.
And, of course, Prayut was the army chief that led that coup.
Three of the four men now have high ranking posts in the ostensibly civilian government that is currently in power. Prayut is prime minister, Anupong is the Minister of Interior and Prawit is deputy prime minister and now the head of the ruling party.
During the last decade, Prawit has survived numerous challenges to his role as dealmaker and leader of the Burapha faction both internally and in the public eye.
He successfully challenged the late Prem Tinsulanonda to become the most powerful person within the Thai army, successfully pulled off a coup against a civilian government and weathered the luxury watch scandal not only unscathed but negotiated it into a more powerful position inside his political party and the government.
To any other political party, someone with Prawit’s political baggage would be a liability.
To Palang Pracharat, with its patchwork makeup of local mafiosos and provocateurs, Prawit is the natural leader.
Now that the curtain has been drawn back, Prawit should be even more vulnerable to the criticisms that have long been reserved for General Prayut.
But given how powerful he has become, we doubt he will care about any critique.[Correction: Original article incorrectly identified Udomdej as the army chief during the coup of 2014.]