A recent Super Poll result showed that over 95% of Thai people want to see a new prime minister in 2023 but an even larger group, 97.3%, support the corruption-busting campaign of bombshell revelation being waged by former politician and massage parlour boss Mr Chuwit Kamolvisit who has now emerged as an unlikely national hero. In any other democracy, it would be a foregone conclusion that the current coalition government is on the verge of being swept away with a palpable desire within the population for change. However, Section 272 of the 2017 Constitution, giving the unelected and junta-handpicked Thai Senate a role in electing the next prime minister, is now looking like it may become a controversial factor in the political equation.
The prospect of a scorchingly hot General Election campaign in Thailand is growing as it becomes clear that the political manoeuvrings of both General Prayut and General Prawit are aimed at leveraging the key advantage the former military junta leaders hold with the control of the country’s unelected Senate while playing democratic roles linked with two political parties. To this has been added the combustible mixture of a growing scandal which has fuelled public unease over corruption and the malign influence of criminal gangs with huge amounts of grey capital which appear to have successfully fostered widespread corruption that whistleblower Chuwit Kamolvisit has warned is so vast, it threatens the security of the kingdom and its sovereignty.
Thailand is heading towards a political showdown in this year’s General Election as the prime ministerial candidates for both the new Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party (RTSC) and the ruling Palang Pracharat Party, Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, both former army chiefs and leaders of the 2014 coup, have deployed their forces on the battlefield at the helm of two key political parties representing a coalition which aims to return one of them to power by using the short term power of Thailand’s Senate or upper house in selecting the kingdom’s next prime minister.
The move comes with the Palang Pracharat Party facing a probe by the country’s powerful Election Commission over a donation in 2021 of ฿3 million accepted from the alleged Chinese triad leader Chaiyanat Kornchayanant or Du Hao whose criminal empire and its links within Thailand’s officialdom has caused shock waves which continue to reverberate throughout the kingdom.
Palang Pracharat Party probed over donation from Chinese kingpin Mr Chaiyanat Kornchayanant
This could, if pursued and subject to the Constitutional Court, see the ruling party dissolved for accepting illicit funds under Section 74 of the organic law on political parties.
This includes substantial allegations put forward by prolific whistleblower and former politician Chuwit Kamolvisit that the criminal syndicate had direct influence within the country’s Anti-Money Laundering Office (AMLO) where Mr Chaiyanat was allegedly a frequent visitor.
These sensational claims led to the dramatic resignation before Christmas of Police Major General Piyapan Pingmuang, the Secretary-general of the agency.
Now, Mr Chuwit has also come forward with allegations linking the Chinese tourism business linked with the Du Hao empire including the operation of 400 tour buses with a relative of one of the most senior officials in the government, a claim that is being openly reported within Thai media and which is understood to be under close examination by the opposition.
Ongoing revelations of Mr Chuwit Kamolvisit are causing mounting disquiet among the public which increasingly wants to see a change of government
The ongoing revelations by Mr Chuwit which have already proved to be well founded in many respects, following one bombshell after another, relate to bribes and influence being wielded within the Immigration Bureau and within the Metropolitan Police Bureau which has seen at least one police officer removed from his duties and high-level enquiries into senior generals.
Mr Chuwit has warned that the scale and extent of the corruption involved not just concerning the empire of Mr Chaiyanat but also other Chinese gangs, poses a direct threat to the security of the Thai state and its sovereignty.
The ongoing stream of breakthrough exposés has now led to a panel being set up within the Metropolitan Police Bureau to investigate Mr Chuwit himself after it emerged in recent days that some of the information he released was the same as confidential information held by the police themselves prompting speculation that he may be in receipt of leaked information from the force.
The Du Hao case and further media stories of other corruption scandals have raised the issue of corruption in Thailand to near the top of the agenda for the 2023 General Election as well as, of course, the economy.
Corruption and ethical governance are now also key economic issues as western blue chip firms and bodies demand higher standards for investment
Increasingly, however, the issue of corruption is being linked with higher ethics and governance standards being demanded of and by western international companies, a situation which is impacting Thailand’s ability to attract inward investment in addition to other factors such as a more aged population and political instability.
In short, corruption in Thailand to many would-be investors in the kingdom represents both political instability and lack of rule of law.
In turn, if there is a continued lack of engagement and investment from blue chip or progressive western firms, it will leave Thailand more aligned with China in an increasingly more polarised economic world as more western countries, led by the United States, are now demanding higher governance standards in return for economic engagement, something that increasingly also makes good politics at home.
A recent poll by Super Poll Research Office (SUPER POLL) just published this week shows that a massive 97.3% are fully supportive of Mr Chuwit’s crusade against corruption even though he once cut a notorious figure as a Bangkok massage parlour boss, in his newfound role as a truth activist.
The same poll suggests that 95.2% of people questioned want to see a new prime minister in office after the next election while, ironically, over 85% wanted to see Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha now move to tackle corruption within the country’s bureaucracy including the civil service and the Royal Thai Police, an extensive force with over two hundred and thirty thousand members nationwide.
The prime minister has often touted his credentials as an ardent campaigner against corruption.
General Prayut finally enters politics seeking to retain power at the helm of a government that just over one in five support, according to polls
On Monday, Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha declared himself for the Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party (RTSC) and finally after over eight years in power, entered into the public arena as a politician in his quest for a further two years in power under the 2017 Constitution.
Already some political commentators and experts are suggesting that the prime minister if, as looks quite unlikely, manages to remain in the top seat at Government House, that a way can be found to alter or amend Section 158 of the 2017 constitution to extend his term.
The same experts or political scientists are also now painting a picture that the forces within the outgoing coalition government which according to the last and most authoritative National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) opinion poll control just 21% of the electorate, may still have the whip hand and be able to form a government in the aftermath of the General Election widely expected in May or June 2023.
Strategy appears to be to leverage Section 272 of the 2017 Constitution and raise the bar for the opposition who must now gain over 75% of seats
They point to the magic number as not being the morally acceptable 250 or 50% of the House of Representatives but the technical majority to command a joint assembly of the House of Representatives and the unelected and former junta hand-picked Senate which is likely to vote for either General Prawit Wongsuwan or General Prayut in the choice for prime minister.
This would be 376 seats in the House of Representatives or over 75%.
This power of the Senate will become a thing of the past after June 2024 under Section 272 of the 2017 Constitution as it only exists for five years after the inauguration or first sitting of parliament under the charter which took place in 2019.
The current constitutional provision however remains in force and automatically gives the existing coalition government the de facto support of up to 250 senators or votes in the election for the position of prime minister meaning that with just 126 MPs or 25.2% if the next parliament, a government could be installed that would be likely to be led by either one or the other of the two army generals who led the 2019 coup and who are both linked with the outgoing government.
Latest NIDA opinion poll puts Pheu Thai Party and key opposition parties likely to support it on 62.8% of the electorate, short of what may be required
The latest opinion poll gives the Pheu Thai Party, Move Forward Party and the Thai Sang Thai Party of former Pheu Thai leader Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan approximately 62.8% of voting preferences between them compared to just 21.55% for key parties linked with the government coalition including the Bhumjaithai Party, Democrat Party, Palang Pracharat Party and the Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party (RTSC).
Both General Prayut and General Prawit, who appear to be operating in tandem although going along different political paths, are reportedly confident of getting the signal to form the next government with the assistance of the Senate.
That such a government would lack moral authority is clear and in practice also, it would face challenges in the House of Representatives to rule and govern in the face of a large majority of Pheu Thai, Move Forward Party and Thai Sang Thai Party MPs with perhaps 300 to 350 seats.
Strategists on the government side have suggested that if a government could be formed then MPs could be won over from the opposition benches with it also being mooted by sources within the Palang Pracharat Party that a coalition deal with the Pheu Thai Pay could be made using the Senate as leverage.
Opposition Pheu Thai Party candidate for Roiet scathing in her criticism of Prime Minister Prayut after this Monday’s political unveiling in Bangkok
What is clear is that nothing can be taken for granted given the impact of Section 272 of the 2017 Constitution which has the potential to distort the will of the people in the next General Election.
The new political role taken on by Prime Minister Prayut this Monday, however, has been scathingly criticised by a Pheu Thai Party candidate in the next General Election in Roiet province and deputy spokesperson for the country’s largest party which is aiming to form the next government with a landslide election win.
Ms Chayapa Sinthuprai told reporters that many of the promoters of the new Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party (RTSC) were formerly activists with the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) which organised street protests involving some activities which were later deemed illegal by the Thai courts and which led to the 2014 coup and the ouster of the democratically elected Pheu Thai government at that time in favour of a junta, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) led by General Prayut and his ‘brother in arms’ General Prawit.
Prayut’s gambit never seen before in Thai politics
The candidate for the House of Representatives described General Prayut’s emergence as a democratic political leader on Monday at a rally in central Bangkok within the newly formed party as an extraordinary move and something that has never been seen before in Thai politics.
She said that anything could be expected of General Prayut who she accused of tearing up the Thai constitution in his 2014 seizure of power.
She explained she found it difficult to reconcile how as a former nominee for prime minister with the ruling Palang Pracharat Party, he could now put himself forward aligned with another party
She noted that it was a pattern with the prime minister to do exactly what he said he would not do but leaving it right up to the last moment referring to General Prayut’s oft-stated policy of staying above politics and his last-minute move in 2014 to launch a coup d’état despite indicating a contrary position right up to the last minute on the 22nd May 2014, over eight years ago.
She also criticised him for his comments on Monday suggesting he did not seek power when he was now aiming to extend his tenure as prime minister for another 2 years, the maximum recently allowed under a ruling by the Constitutional Court in September 2022.
Corruption allegations by Chuwit Kamolvisit will become a key issue in his election campaign to be directed at the key coalition government parties
Ms Chayapa also brought up Mr Chuwit Kamolvisit’s allegations linking the Du Hao empire to possible personal relationships with family members of past and present high-ranking government officials to suggest that corruption is currently out of control in Thailand.
‘General Prayut’s dream of wanting to be prime minister for another two years, but contrary to the dreams of many people who do not want to see General Prayut as prime minister anymore. Looking at the latest NIDA poll results, General Prayut received only 14% of the popular vote, but a candidate for Pheu Thai was at 34%. People now await the future political judgement day,’ the Pheu Thai Party candidate said.
She also referred to a proposed debate in parliament without a vote on the government’s performance under Section 152 of the constitution in which the Pheu Thai Party has promised to expose corruption and wrongdoing within the administration suggesting it would be better for Prime Minister Prayut to dissolve parliament sooner rather than later.
Move Forward’s Pita Limjaroenrat warns against Prayut using legal loopholes to retain power after the General Election, must be prepared for scrutiny
Similar sentiments were expressed by Mr Pita Limjaroenrat, the leader of the country’s second most popular political party Move Forward, which is hoping to secure a power base in Bangkok in the forthcoming election.
Mr Pita is the third most favoured candidate for prime minister with 13.25% in the most recent National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) opinion poll coming in behind General Prayut who was second with 14% while Paetongtarn Shinawatra or Ung Ing of Pheu Thai leads the field currently with 34%.
The popular party leader who represents a more progressive future for Thailand and a party that appeals to younger and more educated voters has warned the prime minister against using what he terms tactics and legal loopholes to remain in power after the forthcoming election.
Corruption reports and the escalating scandal regarding the alleged Chinese drug kingpin Chaiyanat Kornchayanant must be aired on the campaign trail
He has called on General Prayut to subject himself openly to public debate and scrutiny the same as all other politicians and said he would be happy to see the democratic process take its course on the hustings.
He particularly mentioned the questions that must be answered regarding escalating reports of corruption within the government and the public service, something that must be addressed in the course of the General Election campaign.
Mr Pita suggested that there was a will in Thailand among the people for the country to move forward beyond old ways and not to be lagging in a state of corruption that consistently fails to benefit the majority in society while upholding the interests of big capital and monopolistic power in business which has barred the path to progress for future generations.
He said Thai people want to see an end to discrimination, the bullying of small people and an economic system that just leaves people to their fate.
‘This election is therefore one step more important. That is choosing between the past and the future, if you want the country to continue as before then Prayuth-Prawit is the option. But if you have faith in a long way, the only way of salvation for the country, this will not be the same. It is to create a better Thailand to be able to succeed, therefore, moving forward, Thailand must not remain the same,’ said Mr Pita.