PM shrugs off court’s blow to his pride

PM shrugs off court’s blow to his pride

Former foes — red-shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan, centre, and Nitithorn Lamlua, right, a former core leader of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee — now join hands to pressure Prayut Chan-o-cha to resign. Nutthawat Wicheanbut

The Constitutional Court’s decision to suspend prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha from performing his duties appears to have dealt a big blow to him even though deputy spokeswoman Tipanan Sirichana has insisted he is still the de jure prime minister pending the court’s ruling on his term in office expected within a month.

He also remains defence minister and can attend the cabinet meeting although will no longer sit at the head of the table whose seat will be taken over, on an interim basis, by his “big brother”, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, who assumes the role as acting prime minister.

The suspension from active duty may have hurt his pride and spirit. Since the court issued its order suspending him from active duty, he was not seen in public until Friday when he showed up to work at the Defence Ministry.

On Thursday, he attended a Defence Council meeting via video conference from his retreat inside the barracks of the First Infantry Regiment of the Royal Guards.

Gen Prayut has proven many people wrong that he would take a while to lick his wounds before regaining confidence to work full time at the Defence Ministry.

He seems to have swallowed his pride and appears more relaxed working at the ministry, without being hounded by reporters.

Acting Prime Minister Prawit is a different character from Gen Prayut. He may not bark at or reprimand reporters like the temperamental Gen Prayut, but he will simply respond to questions with his trademark answer, “I don’t know”.

Some may wonder what he knows as deputy prime minister in charge of security affairs. But as acting prime minister, he must know something, if not all, about his new job and be able to elaborate.

The court’s suspension order has eased the political tension. Yet it falls short of the expectations of some protest groups who feel that the three “P” power clique still remains intact.

The three “P” means Gen Prayut, Prawit and Pok (Interior Minister Anupong Paochinda), or the three brothers-in-arms. That is not beyond expectation although it is a sensible first-step approach to address the problem of the PM’s eight-year term in office which may take time.

Red-shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan and Nitithorn Lamlua, a former core leader of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee which spearheaded the protests against the government of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra over eight years ago are not satisfied. They threatened to stage a protest yesterday.

Mr Jatuporn has demanded that Gen Prayut step down as Defence Minister and Meechai Ruchuphan, chairman of the panel that crafted the constitution, explain the panel’s concept of the eight-year term of a prime minister.

But it is unlikely that Gen Prayut will respond to Mr Jatuporn’s demand. Nor will Mr Meechai be willingly dragged into this political tug-of-war which will be seen as interfering with the court.

The opposition Pheu Thai Party, which initiated the petition to the court, remains cautious. It does not want to rock the boat further and will stay away from the protest groups because it feels it can stage a political comeback at the general election early next year.

The party can afford to wait and carry on with its campaign to woo supporters, especially in the northeastern and northern regions even though the court may rule in favour of Gen Prayut.

Nitithorn Lamlua does not believe there is a conflict between the three “Ps” being portrayed in the media. He believes the reported split among these three brothers is just a deception. He admits his main concern is that the House may be dissolved by the acting prime minister.

Although it is expected the court may issue its ruling on the PM’s term in office in one month, there is no set timeframe which means that a ruling may be delayed.

A House dissolution cannot be ruled out if this method will give an advantage to the ruling Palang Pracharath Party at the next election. But this scenario will have to weigh heavily with the government’s responsibility to host the Apec Summit in early November, which is regarded as the major event of the year for the government.

How the court will rule on PM Prayut’s term in office is anybody’s guess because it is an unprecedented case.

Even if Section 158 of the constitution says that the limit of a prime minister must not exceed eight years in total, consecutive or not, it does not specify when the term will start to be counted.

It could be since he first assumed his premiership on Aug 24, 2014 after he led the coup in May to oust the then caretaker government of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Or it be since the constitution came into force on April 6, 2017. Or it could be since he was appointed prime minister on June 9, 2019 after the last general election. The issue is highly contentious, debatable and opinions are divided even among constitutional scholars.

The suspense is not over yet; it has just unfolded.