Is Thailand’s top trio of ex-army chiefs marching into the sunset?

  • Marching into their ninth year in power, Thailand’s top trio of former army chiefs, led by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, are taking flak from their own allies, raising questions about their future and that of the country.
  • The focus on the three men, including Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan and Interior Minister Anupong Paochinda, has intensified since Bangkok’s May 22 gubernatorial election, when the pro-military party was routed. The vote coincided with the anniversary of the Prayuth-led military coup that overthrew the elected government in 2014. His key lieutenants in that putsch, Prawit and Anupong, were a formidable alliance, earning the moniker saam paw (the “three Ps,” based on their names).
  • “The three Ps should be blamed! Citizens have given you the chance to reform the country, but you dismissed it,” an irate Warong Dechgitvigrom, leader of the ultraroyalist Thai Pakdee Party, posted on his Facebook page the day after the capital’s elections. “We warned you several times before, but you neglected it.”
  • Similar discontent is spreading within Bangkok’s business community, which largely stood by the generals after the coup and then helped the military-leaning Palang Pracharat Party (PPRP) tap the country’s large conservative vote bank in the 2019 general elections.
  • “Opportunists who surround Gen. Prawit are trying to drive a wedge between him and the prime minister,” a member of Prayuth’s inner circle confided to Nikkei. “It is political power play to create a crisis.”
  • A military source said that the groups around the men “seem to hate each other.”
  • “But in public, the two of them (Prayuth and Prawit) meet, talk, eat, joke together, while Anupong is trying to be the mediator.
  • The three Ps’ success in keeping Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy in their grip for as long as they have – five years atop a junta and, since 2019, as the leaders of an elected government – is rooted in their unique military record.
  • The three rose to prominence in the Queen’s Guard, an elite troop of the 21st Infantry Regiment. Based in Prachin Buri, a province east of Bangkok, the Queen’s Guard accounted for five of Thailand’s six army chiefs during a 12-year stretch from 2004 to 2016.
  • Their brotherhood forged in military barracks has helped them dominate politics for nearly a decade. Prawit, the eldest member, emerged as the deal-maker. Anupong, the next senior by age, became the quiet enforcer. That left Prayuth as the public face of this military-political nexus.
  • Seasoned political analysts say the trio has had no peer since the country began its tentative journey toward democracy following a student-led uprising in 1973. Prajak Kongkirati, a political scientist at Thammasat University in Bangkok, said they have earned a unique place in Thailand’s modern history.
  • “Normally, after a coup, a junta remains in power for two years, but not with the saam paw,” Prajak said. “This is the longest period we have seen leaders of a junta remain in power … [and] they know they have to stick together. If not, their whole regime will collapse.”
  • Prayuth faces multiple political land mines. A censure motion against him in parliament is due in Jul 22, and his support remains uncertain following defections from the PPRP-led alliance since late 2022. Political insiders also point to questions about Prayuth’s position within the party.
  • According to one insider, Prawit is eyeing the premier’s position “even as a caretaker to finish Prayuth’s term if he decides to step down before his term is up next Mar 22.” Allies of Prawit echo that view, arguing that he is the leader of PPRP and the politician who has kept the party together.
  • In 2018, Prawit was embroiled in a scandal over his collection of luxury watches, valued far out of the range of his government salary. Nevertheless, Thailand’s anti-corruption body cleared him of wrongdoing.
  • The perception of Prawit as a leader-in-waiting has only grown since a meeting in late 2021 of all PPRP parliamentarians that he hosted at his Five Provinces Bordering Forest Preservation Foundation, a well-funded private entity based in the heart of a military camp in Bangkok. He distributed sheets of paper and asked the attendees to nominate their future party leader, a confidant of Prawit told Nikkei. “They all chose Prawit – over 100 of them.”
  • Such a changing of the guard would inevitably end the reign of the three Ps, said the confidant of the premier. “All the political players were saying behind closed doors after 2014 that their unity will help them stay in power for years.”

External Link :