Opinion: Opposition still wary of trusting Thammanat

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Thammanat Prompao, the convicted drug dealer who was once vying for the position of the Ministry of Interior, seems to be fumbling in every major decision he has been making ever since he quit the ruling coalition led by Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) to form his own outfit – Setthakij Thai party.

Settakij Thai, which translates to Thai Economic party, has the sole aim of bringing down 2014 coup leader General Prayut Chan-ocha from power but Thammanat continued to be aligned with the leader of the PPRP, General Prawit Wongsuwon, until yesterday.

The once powerful secretary general of the PPRP, Thammanat, went to meet the million dollars watch borrower from his dead friends, Prawit, to bid farewell and declare himself to be with the opposition during the upcoming no-confidence debate that is slated to start tomorrow (July 19).

But Thammanat who claimed to have more than 20 MPs under his control now saw only a handful with him at the moment and the numbers are not looking good as the government’s term approaches its last few months.

Declining Fortunes

Thammant’s rise and fall from grace will be remembered for years if not decades to come.

The drug dealing convict, who was in an Australian jail for up to four years, was allowed to go free and was appointed as Deputy Agriculture Minister under Prayut administration by the Constitutional Court despite the constitution stipulating that no convicts can hold political office if they have been jailed.

Nevertheless, the court found a loophole – he was not convicted in Thailand, therefore he could remain in the ministerial position.

Thammanat was the person who persuaded 11 smaller parties to join the ruling coalition after the general election in 2019, thus helping cement the majority needed for the second largest party – PPRP, to be able to set up a government.

The rise to fame and power, made Thammanat feel invincible, and he demanded (through the media) to take on the position of the Minister of Interior – replacing the close aide of 2014 coup maker Prayut – Anupong Paochinda.

If that was not enough, Thammanat went on to threaten the 2014 coup maker himself during the no-confidence debate in October 2021 and he paid the ultimate price. He was sacked from the ministerial position, which eventually led him to quit the PPRP with a group of nearly 20 MPs.

His hopes of being able to go on his own were shattered just about a fortnight ago, when a by-election in Lampang province saw the incumbent candidate under the banner of Thai Economic Party, fail miserably to a second-tier party Seri Ruam Thai Party led by former police chief Sereepisuth Temeeyaves. Lampang region of Thailand is the backbone of Thammanat for his political power.

Thammanat came out to say that the reason why his party lost was because of their association with the government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha whose popularity is clearly falling.

Soon after the election, Thammanat declared that it was Thai Economic party’s indecisiveness of being in with the government or being with the opposition that cost him and his party the seat in Lampang and a decision was made to move to the opposition camp.

Cautious Opposition

While Thammanat has taken the stance to go along with the opposition side ‘one million per cent’, the opposition parties are cautious about what he really wants and what his aim and ambitions are.

To make matters worse, the opposition block has not given Thammanat and his party any time slot to undertake the no-confidence debate that starts tomorrow as they are not too sure on what information they should share and what they should not.

Leading figures from the opposition parties say that Thammanat has never turned his back on the PPRP or General Prawit since the 2019 elections and therefore they are not too sure what the intentions are. They say they rather be cautious than to welcome Thai Economic Party with open arms.

Thammanat and his group have yet to show that they are aligned to the opposition, because a lot of the smaller parties or as they call themselves ‘Group of Sixteen’ are all looking for bananas for their last pound of flesh that they can extract before the term ends for this government by March 2023.

The notion of dishing out bananas is what is called as bribing the MPs or ‘horse trading’ ahead of the no-confidence debate. The last no-confidence debate saw hoards of cash being shipped into the parliament to be handed out to MPs to vote for the PPRP.

Despite the uproar in the parliament, a parliamentary committee set up to investigate this matter said that there was no such activity of dishing out bananas.

Jumping Ships

The falling fortunes of Thammanat is making some of the MPs in his group look for exit strategy and with possible elections by the end of year, these MPs are looking for new homes.

Reports are emerging that out of the 16 MPs there are only 10 MPs who are still siding with Thammanat.

The bigger question is will Thammanat be able to persuade 16 MPs from small parties, now calling themselves the Group of Sixteen, to join the opposition as well.

Peerawit Ruengluedollapak, a list MP and leader of the Thai Rak Tham Party, said last Friday that the Group of 16 will continue to side with the ruling coalition and they will vote to support Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha at the upcoming censure debate.

Before Thammanat switched sides, the coalition was wielding around 246 MPs versus the opposition’s 208 MPs. After the switch, the coalition now has 236 MPs and the opposition has 218 MPs.

If Thammanat can persuade the Group of Sixteen to also join the opposition, the vote on the censure debate will be very interesting indeed.

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