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Prayuth must end his cosy relationship with Suthep

Whether it was just a slip of the tongue or intentionally said, People's Democratic Reform Committee leader Suthep Thaugsuban dropped a bombshell with his remark that he and the junta chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha had been involved in private discussions on how to overthrow the "Thaksin regime" since 2010.

Suthep's statements suggest Prayuth had long been plotting to bring down the government of Yingluck Shinawatra. Especially incriminating was his claim that in the period leading up to last month's coup the general told him that it was the duty of the Army to finish the work started by the PDRC and its supporters. The remarks have put Prayuth in the spotlight and the junta's credibility has been rocked at a point when it needs to be seen as politically neutral.

After months when it seemed that the country was tipping dangerously close to anarchy, the military's stated aim upon seizing power was to bridge political divisions, bring about reconciliation and dissolve political colours to restore peace and order.

However, Suthep's latest claims leave the NCPO open to accusations of political bias in favour of the PDRC and its goal of eradicating Thaksin Shinawatra's influence from all spheres of Thai political life.

The junta has kept the country in suspense since taking power, silencing critics and cracking down on freedom of speech and of the press to prevent any political comments from worsening the situation.

After the latest controversy sparked by Suthep's remarks, Prayuth quickly applied damage-control measures, having the junta spokesman dismiss the claims. However, he should have added weight to the denial by publicly countering the allegations himself.

Other PDRC core leaders, however, have provoked scepticism about Prayuth's denial. They insist that not only did Suthep and Prayuth talk via the Line chat application, but that the two men even talked over the phone.

The revelations come hot on the heels of poll results that showed that Prayuth has won overwhelming public support to be prime minister in the next government. More than a month after the coup, the NCPO has also won high approval ratings for its efforts in restoring normalcy and putting Thailand on track for a speedy economic recovery.

Healing political rifts is a task that critics believe the junta has yet to achieve, however. Its mission of bringing the two rival camps in for breakfast discussions has been dismissed as mere propaganda with no real or tangible results.

Ever since the seizure of power, the PDRC and the Democrats have claimed that they have trumped the pro-Thaksin camp. Not only does this triumphalism complicate the situation, it also undermines efforts by the junta to fix the deep political cracks.

The PDRC's "Dine with the Kamnan" event, where people paid for an audience with Suthep last Saturday, was undeniably a political activity. However, organisers claim that the objective was to raise money for financial support to families of those who lost their lives or were injured during the six-month PDRC protest campaign in Bangkok.

If the junta allows this event is to be held on a regular basis, it will have to allow the red-shirt camp to stage similar initiatives. Not to do so would be to risk accusations of discrimination and double standards.

We will have to wait and see if Prayuth will choose the stick or carrot approach to fix this problem.

Observers also harbour suspicions that Suthep has ulterior motives behind making such remarks. Let's hope that it was just a slip of the tongue or an attempt to entertain his audience. After all, Suthep had been doing that for almost six months on the PDRC stage.


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