EDITORIAL: Prayut now prey to ‘wolves’ of democracy

BANGKOK (The Nation/ANN) - Elected politicians in his own party are baying for Cabinet posts – and there may be nothing the new PM can do to satisfy them.

Beset by competing demands of elected politicians as he struggles to form a government, General Prayut Chan-o-cha is fast-learning that politics is a matter of negotiation and bargaining rather than dictating.
Prayut, who exploited the nation’s military to seize power from an elected civilian government five years ago, was re-appointed premier under the parliamentary system last week. The junta-sponsored charter eased his passage back to the top job with a bloc vote from the 250 senators it appointed, but Prayut now finds himself stripped of his special powers as he seeks support in the elected House of Representatives.
Prayut may have been nominated by the pro-junta Phalang Pracharat, but the party does not belong to him. Its MPs are entirely unconcerned with Prayut’s status as they demand seats in his Cabinet on grounds that they represent voters from their large power bases.
Ekarat Changlao, Phalang Pracharat party-list MP and chairman of its strategic committee in the Northeast, threatened to reconsider his collaboration with the party when it failed to hand any ministerial seats to his MPs from the region last week.
Meanwhile, Niphan Sirithorn, Phalang Pracharat MP from Trang province, demanded ministerial seats for his group in the South. The general election saw Phalang Pracharat win 13 seats in the South, making inroads into the traditional Democrat Party stronghold.  The group said citizens in the South had voted for Phalang Pracharat candidates because they believed the party would help them solve the problems of low rubber and oil palm prices.  
The two regional groups represent old but realistic political arrangements, since they claim a legitimate mandate from local voters who want action at the national level. For the MPs, Parliament and government is the forum where they can negotiate to divert resources and wealth back to their constituencies. The voters chose these MPs as the best representatives of their interests.
Amid this new democratic arrangement, Prayut meanwhile finds himself shorn of the status he has enjoyed for the past five years. As coup leader in 2014, he was Army chief in charge of a vast military force that then supported his absolute power as prime minister.  With special powers afforded by the junta, he dictated government personnel and actions, limited media freedom and effectively banned all political activities. Article 44 has been his iron fist with which no one can argue.
While that special power remains until the new Cabinet is sworn in, Prayut cannot legitimately exercise it to dictate the democratically elected politicians even within Phalang Pracharat. Prayut can no longer shut the mouths of MPs, who are free to vote or not to vote to support his government. If they vote against the party line, Phalang Pracharat could purge them. But thanks to the military-sponsored charter, if they manage to join a new party within 60 days, they can continue as MPs.
Without strong military back-up and his special powers, Prayut may realise that he has no leverage over the elected MPs. Meanwhile, why should they continue supporting the general in Parliament if they have nothing to give to voters in their constituencies?
Prayut faces what appears to be a mission impossible. His only way of handling parliamentary politics would be to adapt and evolve into the same species he has so often expressed disdain for.


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