Five questions that need answers after a chaotic two weeks in Thai politics

The past two weeks in Thai politics has been chaotic. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha survived a putsch attempt from within his own party at the last minute. He then dismissed two high profile ministers at the heart of the takeover attempt.

Rifts inside the ruling party and within the opposition made their way into the papers while the Covid-19 pandemic continues to spread throughout the country. A new electoral system was also approved in parliament that will favor big parties at the expense of smaller ones.

Here are five questions that must be answered:

Will Thammanat leave the ruling party?

Thammanat Prompao was, by all accounts, the key decision maker in the takeover attempt against Prayut. He tried to secure the necessary votes, negotiated with the opposition, and positioned himself to be the most powerful man in Thai politics at the end of the no-confidence debate last week.

Then it all came crashing down within 24 hours. The coup attempt failed, he was dismissed from his cabinet position, and now his position within the Palang Pracharat party appears tenuous.

But Thammanat is not a powerless figure, stripped of all responsibilities. He is still a influential dealmaker, capable of influencing local elections and still commands a cadre of MPs loyal only to him.

If Prayut pushes too hard and tries to clean house, Thammanat leaving could have severe effect on both the current make up of the PPRP and its future electability. What happens next will be interesting indeed.

What kind of deal was struck between Thammanat and the opposition?

According to sources inside the opposition and the ruling party, Thammanat Prompao had made a deal with a key opposition party to bring down the Prayut government.

If it is true, what kind of deal was struck? Is the opposition really negotiating with someone as notorious as the former drug dealer turned deputy minister?

Is there a schism between Prayut and Prawit Wongsuwan?

Insiders within the PPRP say that Thammanat could not have made the moves he did to take over without the blessing of Party Leader Prawit.

Long seen as the power behind-the-scenes, General Prawit is the fulcrum which negotiates with big businesses and keeps the armed forces in line and is central to how the PPRP operates.

Yet the blessing to take over, which Thammanat apparently had, went away quickly after a closed door meeting with Prayut and General Anupong Paochinda. That rapprochement was seemingly short-lived.

Prayut’s dismissal of Thammanat from the cabinet last week took Prawit by surprise, according to PPRP sources and the local Thai media.

Is there a schism between the former generals Prawit and Prayut? Are the rumors true that Prawit will leave before the next elections to start his own party or retire from politics altogether?

Is Prayut ready to engage in politics?

The prime minister and coup leader has said numerous times that he doesn’t want to engage in party politics. He was voted into office as an outside candidate and currently doesn’t hold any position in any political party.

But it is clear from the events of the last two weeks that Prayut is as shrewd an operator as any other politician. He managed to save himself and his tenure in office at the last minute with a shrewd political move and his dismissal of Thammanat publicly was a classic Thai political move.

Yet the nitty gritty of Thai politics demands constant attention, backroom dealings, and talking constantly with big business. Is the one-time general ready to become that involved in the day-to-day of party politics, something he has so-far avoided?

If he is, does that mean he will step into the PPRP umbrella before the next election or start his own party?

Is there a growing schism between Pheu Thai and the Move Forward Party?

There is no secret that the opposition’s largest party Pheu Thai voted along with the ruling party to amend the constitution and change the electoral procedure. Elections will now be contested under a two-ballot voting system which favors big parties and the expense of smaller ones.

One of the parties that will be most affected by the changes is Pheu Thai’s opposition ally Move Forward. The new progressive Move Forward Party does not have the constituency reach that parties like Pheu Thai and the PPRP have and will be severely hampered in the next election.

Already rifts are forming between the two opposition groups with MPs sniping at each other in the local papers and on social media. Will this rift grow wider and more public in the coming months before elections?

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