Prayut: Full-time politician
Prime Minister Prayuth’s joining the United Thai Party (UTN) has changed his political landscape as he has now accepted his status as a full-time politician and faces the formidable challenge of consolidating the new party.
Jan. 9, the day he joined the party, marked a major turning point for General Prayuth, who has long been seen as a reluctant and even half-hearted politician despite being prime minister for nearly eight years.
The fateful day in General Prayuth’s calendar ushers in the reality that UTN will be his vehicle to seek a third term as prime minister after the next election scheduled for May 7.
After parting ways with the ruling People’s Power Party (PPRP), General Prayuth headed to UTN after securing the prime ministership after the last polls in 2019 with a lot of expectations.
When General Prayuth served in the PRP, some members accused him of being apathetic to the party, positioning himself as an outsider, dismissive of any label as a politician.
Now, as a UTN subscriber, General Prayut has donned the mantle of a full-time politician, leading the party through the electoral maze ahead.
UTN Needs A-listers
However, if General Prayuth is to have any chance of making a comeback as prime minister after the next election, UTN’s huge task will have to be to attract talent and more prominent politicians, a source said.
Sources noted that the launch of General Prayuth’s UTN membership was warmly received, although it did not come with any big surprises as it was not the star-studded event some had hoped for.
Aside from UTN leader Pirapan Salirathavibhaga and party secretary-general Akanat Promphan, a handful of experienced politicians were present at Gen Prayut’s inauguration: Chumpol Kanchana, a veteran politician from Suratthani from the Democratic Party; Trairong Suwannakhiri, a former stalwart of the Democratic Party elements; and Suchart Chomklin, Labor Minister and PPRP faction leader who defected to UTN from the ruling party.
UTN needs more “A-lister” politicians or members of Congress who have the potential to win the next poll, sources said. The party will be closely watched to see how much traction it has in attracting the promising names who not only help the party expand but also give General Prayuth a much-needed boost to win a third term as prime minister .
Sutin Klungsang, vice-chairman and chief whip of the main opposition Pheu Thai party, said General Prayuth had been a political leader since he orchestrated the 2014 coup that overthrew the Pheu Thai-led government and began his tenure as prime minister, despite denials. Home for a while.
“He should wash his hands of politics when he gets the chance.
“But he decided to stay on to extend his grip on power,” Mr Soutine said.
After General Prayut joined UTN, there was at least a sense of clarity. For months, General Prayuth has refused to confirm that he will enter UTN.
Mr Soutine said the party had to prove its worth, that it could become an established political brand that could build a solid support base in the short time before the election.
If General Prayuth agrees to be nominated by UTN as a prime ministerial candidate, it will be the first time a political party has nominated a prime ministerial candidate who, if elected by parliament, is doomed to fail to complete his term as prime minister.
At the end of September last year, the Constitutional Court ruled that General Prayut had two years left to serve as prime minister. The prime minister’s term is four years.
Mr Soutine said that unlike in previous elections, when Gen Prayuth did not play an active role in the PRP, the prime minister would have no choice but to be more hands-on in guiding UTN.
Although he is not the party leader, General Prayuth found all power in UTN resting in his hands.
Voters will also keep a close eye on politicians who defect to UTN. Mr Soutine said those who arrived late would have little time to campaign because rivals were ahead in many constituencies.
“General Prayut himself will also have to deal with the build-up of negativity directed at him. He knows this is a hurdle to cross,” he said.
UTN cannot afford to be a temporary organization. Such parties are difficult to operate these days because voters have learned their shallowness and realized that they are neither united nor normal.
If UTN wins a landslide in the polls, it will have the power to lead the formation of a government.
But if it becomes the fourth or fifth largest party, it will have no legitimacy to coalesce with other parties to secure their support for General Prayuth to be elected prime minister in parliament.
“It’s hard for people to accept,” he said.
Natchhanon Srikorkua, MP for Bhumjaithai Party in Songkhla province, said General Prayuth was at one point hesitant to join any political party. He apparently wants to “shop around” first, thinking about which parties are capable of securing at least 25 MPs, the minimum required to nominate a prime minister.
He agreed that General Prayut must find a way to gain the confidence of politicians so that they switch to UTN. The two parties in the coalition ranks where UTN can attract the most defectors are the PPRP and the Democrats.
However, defection can also strain relationships. Mr Natchhanon said all parties would not sit idly by as they would fight to prevent or stop the bleeding.
The MP said he believed a deal had been reached that would prompt more high-profile politicians to switch parties.
Mr Natchanon said UTN had no choice but to sweep the next polls. For example, if it wins significantly fewer House seats than Bhumjaithai, it will have a hard time justifying leading the formation of a government.
“Let’s say UTN proposed 30 MPs and Bhumjaithai proposed 120. It’s not hard to imagine which way the balance of power will tip,” he said.
The MP added that if UTN can claim any legitimacy in trying to lead the next government, it should get at least 50-80 MPs. Under the reintroduced double-vote system, a total of 500 House of Representatives seats, 400 constituency members and 100 list members will be up for grabs.
General Prayut’s strength as a statesman lies in his honesty, otherwise he would not have stayed in the job for so long.
Mr Natchanon said General Prayuth had adjusted to the life of a politician. He has the airs of a statesman, listens more to people and sometimes shares jokes with them.
Wanwichit Boonprong, a political scientist at Rangsit University, said General Prayuth, who is at the forefront of UTN, will come under scrutiny as a politician.
He has been accused of abusing his power as prime minister to give UTN an electoral advantage, the academic said, adding that political opponents will find fault with his every blunder.
He said any compromise or concessions between the Coalition parties would be tenuous as the race to the polls intensified.
“General Prayuth is well aware that the faster he joins UTN, the faster politicians will decide to join the party,” he said.
Mr Wanwichit cast doubt on the electability of some former MPs welcomed by UTN. They were list MPs in the last election because of the counting method stipulated by the now-defunct one-vote system.
“If half of them get promoted to the winning spot on the roster this time around, they’re lucky,” he said.
Gen Prayut is actually the only magnet for UTN. Few members gain prestige or become solid options for public office.
Olarn Tinbangtiew, a lecturer at Burapha University’s Faculty of Political Science and Law, said General Prayut will have to leverage his support base and use his image to devise the best strategy for UTN’s electoral victory.
“General Prayuth seems more willing to offer himself as a candidate for prime minister. But he needs to put more effort into communicating with people that will clarify lingering and unexplained questions about the party or the prime minister himself.
“People may have questions like why General Prayuth felt it was his duty to retake the post as prime minister and only hold that post for two years, or what kind of future the country has for a prime minister for one and a half terms,” he said. Say.
Mr Olan said PPRP and UTN would compete against each other, although they would likely negotiate over whose candidates should stand in which constituencies. If one party’s candidate is particularly strong in a constituency, the other party may opt out of the race.
He added that, according to opinion polls, General Prayut has more followers in the party list system than the PRP.
The lecturer said he believed there would be continued focus on how the military positioned itself in the election.
The Ministry of Home Affairs, which has a vast network of nationwide local administrative organizations that exercises election-related powers, has been under the leadership of Home Affairs Minister Anupong Paojinda for almost eight years.
Gen Anupong is one of the “Three Generals”, a powerful group that also includes Gen Prayut and Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, who also leads the PPRP. Gen Prawit also has the backing of his party to be nominated as prime minister.
Critics agree that Generals Prayut and Prayut will be competing in the polls, with the military and the interior ministry divided over support for the pair.