BANGKOK The tense Thai premier will have talks with leaders of the party of his ruling coalition on Thursday to thwart the growing divides, which could result in early elections later in the year.
Prayut Chan-O-Cha is the leader of a swathe of coalitions criticized for his poor management of COVID-19, a deadly economy in a slump, and simmering tensions over massive 2021 demonstrations to promote democracy that has dominated the last twelve months.
The tense political climate in Southeast Asia’s second-largest economic zone has led to a weaker opposition call for the prime minister to be removed in a no-confidence vote when parliament begins in May.
On Monday, Prayut’s former mentor Vice Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said that an election could be called early in the coming months after Thailand hosted an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in November.
Although the deputy prime minister does not have the power to determine when elections are held, this is the first indication from the government regarding the date for national elections, months before Prayut’s term ends in March 2023.
After his deputy’s comments, Prayut refused to comment about a possible date for an election.
If the polls are conducted after the APEC summit or earlier, analysts believe they will yield a negative result for Prayut.
“Most Thais would like to get General Prayut removed from office,” said professor Thitinan Pongsudhirak of Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.
“The economy isn’t doing well. People are still reminiscing about the first pandemic failures that were the time there was no vaccine in the nation.”
The pandemic has battered Thailand’s economy, gaining only 1.6 percent last year, following a 6.2 percent drop in 2020, the lowest performance since the 1997 Asian economic crisis.
Paul Chambers of the Center of ASEAN Community Studies at Naresuan University in Thailand believes that the longer the prime minister can stall elections, the more favorable it will be for him.
“Prayut is now so unpopular that he’s only able to be reelected with Senate assistance,” he said, an ode towards Bangkok’s second chamber filled with government-friendly figures.
“Thus, being patient as long as is possible to get the Senate to support him in his bid to win another term will help Prayut maintain his power.”
The former army chief who was at the helm of a coup attempt in 2014 before assuming the role of the prime minister following the elections of 2019 leads an alliance of 16 parties that has 248 seats, compared to an opponent’s number of 208.
But his base is becoming more fractured. Then, in January, a section of 20 lawmakers of the Palang Pracharat party was kicked out of the party over internal disputes.
In July, seven ministers of an alliance of junior members refused the chance to participate in a cabinet session in a dispute over an extension to the concessions for Bangkok’s Sky Train urban railway.
Prayut has tried to strengthen his alliance by reaching smaller groups. He must garner enough backing to get through a no-confidence discussion arranged by the opposition when the parliament reconvenes in May.
Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of the department of political science of Ubon Ratchathani University, said the mechanism was more than a pressure gauge for the opposition but is unlikely to bring down the government.
In any event, the constitution adopted at the time of 2017 tilts odds towards pro-military groups.
In 2019, Prayut’s political party was second regarding seats, but thanks to the Senate packed with supporters, they managed to come together to ally.