Recent actions by Prime Minister Prayuth and the largest party in Thailand’s ruling coalition, the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), indicate that they may be unwilling to cede any power to coalition partners like the Democrats. This will only cause further divisions within the ruling coalition and could lead to its collapse.
By Umair Jamal
Tensions are simmering within Thailand’s ruling coalition as Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha faces new rifts in his 19-party alliance.
A likely upcoming cabinet reshuffle has triggered another round of bickering, with many coalition parties vying for more ministerial posts in the government while others are unwilling to cede any power.
Controversy over a by-election earlier this month has further exposed underlying rifts between the main ruling party, the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), and its main coalition partner, the Democrat Party.
Analysts believe that the ruling coalition may soon break apart as differences grow. Amidst this political uncertainty, former junta leader Prayuth cannot be sure if the country’s powerful military establishment will continue to support him.
What does the ruling coalition look like?
Thailand’s ruling coalition has been at loggerheads since coming to power after the 2019 general election. Prayuth’s PPRP has 121 seats in the parliament, Bhumjaithai party has 61 seats and the country’s oldest party, the Democrats, has 51 seats.
The coalition also includes many micro-parties with some bringing just one seat in support of the government. The ruling coalition is also supported by a group of lawmakers from the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), an ultra-royalist and anti-election movement which has 14 parliamentarians.
On the whole, Prayuth has led a coalition of factions that have been jockeying for the past two years to gain power in the government. In September 2019, the Prachatham Thai Party (PTP), one of 10 micro-parties supporting the PPRP, pulled out from the governing coalition. This reduced the ruling coalition to 252 representatives, only a slight majority in the 500-seat lower house of parliament, and raised questions about Prayuth’s ability to remain PM if the opposition brings a vote of no-confidence.
Though Prayuth has now survived two such votes of no confidence, his government has only become more fragile due to unending infighting within the coalition’s ranks, growing more intense still over the last few weeks.
A potential cabinet reshuffle and a by-election have intensified Prayuth’s struggles
Last month, a criminal court convicted 26 people, including three sitting ministers from the ruling coalition. The development has opened another political Pandora’s box, as many parties within the ruling government are reportedly eyeing the three ministerial posts.
Over the last year, Prayuth was already facing consistent pressure from his allies for not offering their parties adequate cabinet positions. Before the convictions, there were reports that Prayuth was planning to reshuffle his cabinet, causing rifts among the ruling parties.
After the ministers were deposed, Prayuth addressed speculations by saying that coalition partners may propose changes to the cabinet but the final authority rests with him. He further noted that he is in talks with his main coalition partners, including the Democrat and Bhumjaithai parties, to find a solution.
Following the convictions in February, Democrat leader Jurin Laksanawisit, who is also the country’s deputy prime minister and commerce minister, has said that the Democrats’ share in the cabinet will not change. This indicates that his party will not accept any changes that affect its share of ministerial seats.
In early March, Anucha Nakasai, PPRP secretary-general, indirectly disputed reports that Prayuth is planning a cabinet reshuffle, saying that no talks are taking place regarding any changes in the government.
Complicating the crisis is the recent PPRP win of a by-election in Nakhon Si Thammarat province on March 3. The by-election was held after a Democrat parliamentarian from the province’s third constituency was disqualified by a Constitutional court over election fraud earlier this year. Despite their ties, the PPRP and the Democrat party engaged in a fierce battle over the seat and fielded candidates against one another.
The Democrat party maintains that the PPRP ignored a political agreement not to challenge their candidate. The PPRP’s decision has damaged the coalition further. “If everyone is allowed to contest for the same seat, then this government’s days are numbered,” warned Wittaya Kaewparadai, a ranking Democrat member from the south.
The PPRP’s win in the controversial by-poll may end up costing it the support of the Democrats. Even if the Democrats don’t overtly go against Prayuth, the party is likely to push for other backdoor deals within and outside the coalition to push the PPRP out of power.
Ruling coalition is likely on the decline
The growing signs of friction within the coalition underscore that the current government may not survive for long, according to Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political science professor at Chulalongkorn University, as reported by The Straits Times.
Kan Yuenyong, executive director of Siam Intelligence Unit, a Bangkok-based think tank, argues that “The government cannot ignore these internal divisions because in Thai coalition politics, a government that may have votes to feel confident at one stage can suddenly be in a fragile situation if there are factional splits.”
“The government is being held together by Prayuth and he will have to manage the differences coming into the open,” he added.
At this stage, the big question is whether power brokers in Thailand’s royalist establishment will continue to stick with Prayuth. What is clear is that the existing political instability within the government is creating more trouble for the country’s powerful military than keeping the economy on track or fending off anti-government protests.