Opinion: Absolute power to fight the pandemic now rests with Prayut, God help us all

The cabinet passed an emergency resolution on Tuesday giving control of the government to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha to do whatever was necessary to stem the tide of the Covid-19 pandemic.

With infighting between coalition partners now the norm, the move was seen as calcifying the de-facto state of affairs inside the cabinet as Prayut has been the one making the decisions all along.

The emergency move gave Prayut the power of his ministers and allows him to implement a state of emergency and a national lockdown – ostensibly streamlining the decision-making process and allowing the former coup leader to act unilaterally.

The move comes just a day after the Minister of Public Health, Anutin Charnvirakul, publicly shifted the blame from his ministry to Prayut and the cabinet for inaction leading to the third wave of the pandemic.

Infighting now the norm

Prayut responded in yesterday’s cabinet meeting by telling his ministers he was not afraid of reshuffling ministerial posts, coalition politics be damned.

The prime minister said he was aware that some of his ministers were insulting and criticizing him behind his back and he said that had to stop.

In his tell-all Facebook post, Anutin had said that his ministry had constantly advised the government on the correct decision but the prime minister and the covid emergency response centre were making decisions unilaterally. (Read more here)

With the emergency transference of power on Tuesday, there is no longer any excuses on the part of Prayut and the government who have, for weeks, been leaking to the press the perceived mistakes made by Anutin and the public health ministry.

The buck will finally stop at Prayut but one wonders if this is for the best interest of the country.

Poor decision making

Despite rumors circulated from senior members inside of the Prime Minister’s Office, sources from both the public health ministry and the coalition parties have said that Prayut and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan have been calling the shots by themselves for weeks.

The decision to not lockdown the country leading up to Songkran was a decision made by the cabinet. It seemed that Prayut and Prawit were afraid of the move in case it proved unpopular with the public and led to economic fallout that could damage Thailand’s fragile Covid-impacted economy.

The point is now moot, however, with the third wave of the pandemic ravaging the country and likely to cancel any economic gains made in the first quarter of the year.

For generals used to passing emergency decrees and acting with absolute power, their decision making in crucial stages of this pandemic has been indecisive. Both Prawit and Prayut hail from a army unit known as the Eastern Tigers but their leadership during the pandemic has been rather more like a house cat.

Now with Prayut calling all the shots, the fate of the country rests in the hands of a man who did not even bother to research the vaccines his country will be bringing in before a nationally-televised press conference.

The notoriously poorly-informed, intellectually uncurious Prayut will now be charged with making the correct decisions to guide us out of this pandemic hellscape.

God help us all.

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