Finally, Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha admitted that he was ‘contemplating’ the move to join the Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party, a party that has been formed by one of his closest advisers.
“I am considering it,” the 2014 coup leader told reporters who have been hounding him about his political future since November 20. There was a rumor that Gen. Prayut already joined the party on that day.
The fact that Gen. Prayut accepted that he was ‘considering’ the move is a clear indication that he has broken ranks with the ultra-luxury watch borrower, General Prawit Wongsuwon.
The leader of the Palang Pracharath party (PPRP) reportedly met with Gen. Prayut on November 20 to discuss the departure of Gen. Prayut to the Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party.
During the conversation, sources said Gen. Prawit asked Gen. Prayut when he will announce the dissolution of the parliament to hold elections and Gen. Prayut answered that it would be done soon. However, he wants to let the people take a breather after a ‘successful’ Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.
This has led many to believe that the house dissolution would likely happen sometime in December and elections would then be held within 60 days after the house is dissolved as per the constitution.
The Constitutional Court’s ruling that the amendment to an electoral bill that was objected to by many MPs was in fact constitutional has given weight to the fact that the election is on track to be held no later than May 2023, at the latest.
Unless Prayut dissolves the parliament earlier, the term of his government ends on March 23, 2023.
25 MPs Question
The problem with the setting up of a new political party and putting Gen. Prayut at the forefront of the nomination list for Prime Minister as the Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party has done is that they need at least 25 MP seats for the nomination.
The law stipulates that a PM candidate must have at least 25 sitting MPs in the party to be able to get voted in for the premiership.
The problem with the Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party is that so far it has managed to attract most of the MPs who were ex-MPs and or are aspiring MPs, not MPs who would be in the parliament the next time around.
This is the stumbling block for Gen. Prayut before he opts to dissolve the parliament because if he does not get the magic number of 25 MPs he would not want to give up on the hold of power he has at the moment.
Once Prayut is assured that he can get the 25 MPs then he would surely move to dissolve the parliament and then hold elections.
The PPRP and Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party will contest the polls under different banners and will likely regroup to try to form the next government, but then depending on the party that has larger MPs the candidate for the Prime Minister would be decided.
Prayut’s Prime Ministership has already been capped by the Constitutional Court which has ruled that his 8-year term limit will end by April 2025, thus even if Prayut makes it to the Prime Minister’s position he would be there no later than that April 2025, or just 2-years out of the 4-year term of the government.
The bigger problem would also be the fact that the drug dealing convict Thammanat Prompao is set to return to PPRP and he may not want to see Prayut be the Prime Minister because that was the reason why Thammanat left the PPRP and form his own Settakij Thai party (Thai Economic party).
Phai Lick, the key man behind the Settakij Thai party, said ‘it was only a matter of time and legal process before the 13 MPs of the party would rejoin the PPRP.’
Thammanat and about 20 MPs who were sacked from the PPRP in January this year have been looking for a bigger party to merge into as the new electoral law favors bigger parties.
Settakij Thai party was rumored to be joining the opposition Pheu Thai party, only to be turned down. Then it tried to form an alliance with Bhumjai Thai Party but that rumor went quiet and now the Settakij Thai party seems to be going back to PPRP.
Saam Mitr & Thammanat
The problem with the return of the Settakij Thai Party to the PPRP fold is that the powerful Saam Mitr (3 friends) faction, which has up to 20 MPs in its pockets, is not very keen to see it return to the PPRP.
Saam Mitr faction, which has the likes of Industry Minister Suriya Juangroongruangkit and Justice Minister Somsak Thepsuthin, are not too keen to see Thammanat returning to the fold of the PPRP.
The Saam Mitr faction has been jumping around to various parties and is crucial to the formation of the governments over the past few years.
The possibility of bringing the Settakij Thai Party back to the PPRP fold could trigger a bigger problem for the PPRP than they wish for as the Saam Mitr faction could possibly move out and join the more hungry parties such as Bhumjai Thai or others who have been poaching all parties for MPs in order to be able to be the core for the next government.
A possible defection of the Saam Mitr faction could put the PPRP and the plans of Prayut returning to power in jeopardy leaving the Pheu Thai or Bhumjai Thai to be the core of the next government.
The 2 generals who plotted and overthrew the elected governments in 2014 are creating a perfect storm within their support base to help bring down the house of cards that they have tried so hard to build and protect since the 2014 coup.
Although the generals may think that they are trying to diversify their risk by splitting amid the declining popularity of Prayut, and then rejoining after the polls, the game of trying to fool the voters may backfire.