Thailand’s PM Confronts Power Struggles Amid Confidence Crisis

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system of government, officially known as the Kingdom of Thailand. The king is ceremonial and has limited powers. The government is headed by a prime minister, who is typically the leader of the political party or coalition with the most seats in the House of Representatives. Thailand’s legislative branch consists of a bicameral parliament, including the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Members of the House of Representatives are elected by the people, while some senators are appointed. Thailand has a multi-party system with several competing parties in elections, and the political landscape can be dynamic. The country has experienced periods of political instability, including military coups and government changes. The military’s role in politics has been significant throughout the country’s history.

Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin faces numerous challenges as a political novice without a power base in Pheu Thai (PT), the largest party in the 11-party government coalition. He faces a crisis of confidence, with more Thais doubting his ability to stop corruption and improve lives and livelihoods. During the election campaign, Srettha was less popular than Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the youngest daughter of former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, and Pita Limjaroenrat, leader of Move Forward Party (MFP).

Srettha, who resigned from Sansiri CEO post, has sued Chuwit Kamolvisit for slander and demanded 500 million baht as compensation. Chuwit threatens to petition the National Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate Srettha. The PT faced disarray after failing to win a landslide victory in the May general election and had to play second fiddle to the MFP. After Pita’s failure, the PT seized the opportunity to “divorce” the MFP and work with previous Prayut Administration parties.

Srettha’s premiership will be held hostage by its four major coalition partners, all of which are former opponents of the PT: Bhumjaithai (BJT), Palang Pracharath (PPRP), United Thai Nation (UTN), and Chartthai Pattana (10 MPs). Without the support of these four parties, the current PT-led coalition would lose control of the majority in the 500-member House of Representatives, risking Srettha’s toppling in a no-confidence motion.

Thaksin’s remaining one-year jail term and extraordinary arrangements during the Srettha Administration will be closely watched. The Corrections Department approved Thaksin’s request to extend his stay in hospital by 30 more days. The Srettha premiership is expected to last until its mid-term in May 2025, when his administration is expected to deliver a new and democratic “people’s constitution.” Srettha, a known critic of the Prayut Administration, was invited to join the PT before the May general election. He was initially given an informal role as chief advisor to the head of the “Pheu Thai Family,” Paetongtarn.

During the election campaign, Srettha’s most memorable feat was unveiling the PT’s ambitious pledge to give every Thai who is 16 years old and above a “digital wallet” containing 10,000 baht for spending within their neighborhoods. He played no role in the selection of election candidates or who would join his cabinet. The cabinet list was submitted to the King on 1 September, ten days after Srettha won the premiership on 22 August.

Srettha is concurrently the finance minister, allowing him to push the implementation of the “digital wallet” plan and control the purse strings. He will be assisted by a deputy finance minister from the UTN, Krisada Chinavicharana, who resigned as permanent secretary of the Ministry of Finance on 31 August.

The Thai Prime Minister, Srettha, has been negotiating free trade agreements with Thailand’s key trading partners without being an MP. He has secured a deputy foreign minister, Jakkapong Sangmanee, to assist him in this endeavor. However, this lack of legislative support can lead to a tendency to lose touch with MPs and senators, who are crucial for pushing through key legislations, especially constitutional amendments.

The Srettha coalition government has faced challenges, including the “horse-trading” for cabinet posts. The coalition announced its decision to part ways with the MFP in early August, leading to infighting among MPs. The interior minister post was given to BJT leader Anutin Charnvirakul, while the agriculture minister post was given to PPRP secretary-general Thammanat Prompao. The energy minister post was sacrificed to UTN leader Pirapan Salirathavibhaga in exchange for the defence minister post, which will help reduce electricity, diesel, gasoline, and cooking gas prices and curb rising living costs.

The defence minister post was appointed to Sutin Klungsang, a deputy party leader, who has recruited General Nipat Thonglek as his chief assistant. Sutin has become the first civilian to head the Ministry of Defence without concurrently holding the premiership.

The appointments of the new Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, Army Commander, Air Force Commander, and Navy Commander were swiftly made under the watch of outgoing PM General Prayut Chan-o-cha. The PT had to yield to secure support from former “enemy parties” to help Srettha win the premiership, but they are aware that crucial support will come at a price. Both the PT and Srettha must allow ministers from coalition partners some leeway to advance their respective parties’ agendas without unnecessary intervention from the head of government.

Srettha, the new prime minister of Thailand, faces a dilemma in maintaining power and avoiding accountability for corruption within his government. He must balance his need for coalition partners’ support to deliver concrete results while also ensuring that corruption does not spread faster than the Thai economy can recover. Srettha has expressed his desire to be a “people’s prime minister” and has made several key decisions during his first cabinet meeting.

Srettha’s priorities include lowering electricity and diesel prices, suspending debt repayment for farmers and SMEs, introducing visa-free entry for foreign tourists, cutting gasoline and cooking gas prices, and providing financial support for distressed SMEs. He also plans to implement a digital wallet to stimulate nationwide spending during the Songkran water festival by February 1, raising 560 billion baht to give 56 million adults 10,000 baht each.

The Srettha Administration will also push for legal recognition of same-sex marriages, develop a new volunteer military, and draft a new constitution. However, the actual policy towards marijuana and hemp remains unclear, as the BJT, now the second largest party in the coalition government, vowed to defend “free” cultivation and sale for medicinal purposes.

Ex-PT leader Dr Cholnan Sri-kaew will now have the task of finding a new compromise with the PT, who stepped down as PT leader on 31 August to take responsibility for his failed pledge not to embrace the two parties of the two ageing generals.

One sensitive omission in the PT-led coalition government is leaving untouched the controversial Section 112 of the Criminal Code, the lese-majeste law, which was a crucial precondition for many senators who voted for Srettha on 22 August.

Srettha, the Thai Prime Minister, is attempting to avoid offending the Thai military and their conservative allies by advocating for “joint development” in full consultation with all relevant stakeholders. However, he must also address Thaksin, who now has a one-year jail term following the King’s commutation of his sentences from eight years to one. Any new preferential treatment for Thaksin will only confirm public suspicion that he is manipulating the Srettha premiership.

The ongoing challenge for Srettha is the polarisation between conservatives who want to preserve the status quo and the young who want more rapid changes. A large majority of the latter voted for the MFP due to its clear agenda for change, including reform of the military and the monarchy. Most political parties within the coalition government, the MFP (149 MPs) and the Democrat Party (25 MPs), tend to see eye to eye on the need to give Thailand a new and genuinely democratic constitution.

The proposal to amend the 2017 Constitution requires the support of at least one-third of senators, with 152 out of 249 voting for Srettha. The number of senators supporting a new constitution is uncertain due to opposition from some. The current senators will leave in May 2024, and a new batch of 200 senators will fill the Senate, with a majority of lower House MPs approving the drafting.

The Srettha Administration faces a dilemma: either block a progressive new constitution or call for an early general election. The MFP has gained public sympathy due to Pita’s failure to win the premiership and his rejection of his name for another round of selection. Pita resigned as leader on 16 September, and Secretary-General Chaitawat Tulathon is expected to succeed him. A recent survey found that the MFP’s popularity rose from 30.20% in the May general election to 49.04% in late August, while the PT’s popularity dropped from 28.20% to 10.65%.

MFP candidate Pongsathorn Sornpetnarin easily captured a House seat in Rayong’s Constituency 3 on 10 September, with 39,296 votes. Srettha should focus on tackling economic woes to gain more bargaining power with coalition partners and maintain the MFP’s support for his premiership. This is crucial for securing continued endorsement from the influential conservative establishment.

Thailand’s Financial and Political Systems

Thailand’s financial and political systems are intricate and have evolved over time. The country is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system, with periods of political stability and turmoil, including military coups. The monarchy holds a symbolic role in Thai society. The bicameral legislature consists of the House of Representatives and the Senate, elected through a mixed-member proportional representation system.

Thailand has a multi-party system with prominent parties like the Pheu Thai Party, Democrat Party, and Palang Pracharath Party. Political alliances and affiliations can be fluid. The military has played a significant role in Thai politics, including coups and interventions in civilian governments. Thailand conducts regular elections for both the House of Representatives and the Senate, but the political landscape has been marked by periods of political unrest and military intervention.

Thailand’s financial system is a vital part of its economy, consisting of a robust banking sector, the Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET), and the official currency, the Thai Baht (THB). The Bank of Thailand (BOT) serves as the central bank, regulating the banking industry. The SET is the primary stock exchange, raising capital for businesses and providing a platform for trading stocks and securities.

The BOT oversees the financial sector to maintain stability and prevent financial crises. Thailand faces economic challenges such as income inequality and regional disparities, but its export-oriented economy attracts significant foreign direct investment in sectors like automotive manufacturing, electronics, and tourism. The political and economic landscape in Thailand can change rapidly, so it’s advisable to consult up-to-date sources for the latest information.

Thai PM faces challenges to power

Thailand’s political landscape is characterized by challenges and controversies surrounding the Prime Minister’s power. Protests demanding constitutional reforms and greater democratic representation have been met with heavy police response, leading to clashes and arrests. Critics argue that the constitution, drafted under military rule, favors the military and weakens civilian authority. Thailand’s strict lèse-majesté laws, which prohibit criticism of the monarchy, have been a source of controversy.

The country’s economy heavily relies on tourism, and the government faces challenges in managing economic fallout and providing support to affected businesses and individuals. International relations, particularly with the United States and China, are closely monitored, requiring the government to navigate diplomatic challenges while maintaining sovereign.

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