THE NEXT GENERAL election is still several months away but it seems preparations are under way for General Prayut Chan-o-cha to return as prime minister – and he has a big edge over others if that was his wish.
Many observers see the current Constitution, which came into effect in April last year, as designed to favour an unelected PM candidate and smaller political parties. The mixed-member proportional (MMP) representation system will be adopted for the first time in the next election. Under this electoral system, each voter gets two votes – one to elect the representative for their constituency and the other for the candidate’s political party.
The new electoral system will make it very difficult for any political party to gain an absolute majority in the House of Representatives. So, it is highly likely that the administration to be formed after the election will be a coalition government.
In the MMP representation system, “every vote counts” and all the votes each party gets will be calculated to determine how many House seats they translate into. So there will be a lot of smaller parties in the Lower House.
However, collectively or in large groups, those tiny players can become a critical factor in the post-election numbers game to form a coalition.
Moreover, a constitutional clause allows a non-MP prime minister if the Lower House fails to agree on who should become the next head of government. The clause states that if the Lower House fails to agree on the PM candidate, a joint meeting with the Senate shall be convened to select the government head. All the 250 senators are selected by the ruling junta – the National Council for Peace and Order – and in the second round, the PM candidates can be anyone, not just those in the political parties’ lists.
This is where Prayut stands a good chance of being nominated and chosen to become prime minister again. He could claim legitimacy as a “neutral choice”, as the winning parties failed to reach an accord. The more the number of parties in the Lower House, the higher the likelihood of them failing to reach an agreement, and consequently the better the chance for Prayut to “fill the void”.
In addition to support from the junta-appointed Senate, Prayut could also find future allies in many political parties who would be ready to back him if “the offer were right”. Also, there are other parties that exist or are being formed with the main purpose of bringing Prayut back as prime minister after the election. These include the Bhum Jai Thai Party, which is drawing many former MPs and politicians due to confidence in its leader Anutin Charnvirakul and financiers.
Certain government figures also are reportedly planning a new political party that will be pro-military. They mainly are from the government’s economic team, namely Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak, who is in charge of the economic affairs, Industry Minister Uttama Savanayana, and Commerce Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong.
This party-in-the making is attracting many former MPs and veteran politicians from various parties.
Prayut could also get the backing from new parties who have clearly expressed their preference for him. These include the People Reform Party and one to be formed by certain leaders of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee. And there are some small parties and political factions to whom Prayut had earlier extended his hand of friendship. They include the Phalang Chon Party and a Pheu Thai Party faction led by the Sasomsap brothers. Middle-sized parties like Chart Thai Pattana and Chart Pattana, with a long history of joining winning coalitions, could also provide necessary support for General Prayut to become the next PM – certainly if they get satisfactory offers.