Rift threatens Prayut's future
All eyes are on the political future of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, as well as that of the ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), after parliament endorsed a charter amendment bill which sought to bring back the two-ballot voting system.
The system will favour major parties, such as the Pheu Thai Party, which is expected to be the PPRP's main rival in the next general election.
After Capt Thamanat Prompow was sacked as deputy agriculture minister and Narumon Pinyosinwat removed as deputy labour minister last week, some believe Gen Prayut is now moving to assert his authority in the party.
Capt Thamanat and Ms Narumon are known to be close to Deputy Prime Minister and PPRP leader Prawit Wongsuwon.
Even though Capt Thamanat has not resigned from his role as PPRP's secretary-general, it is widely believed that his time with the party is coming to an end.
If Capt Thamanat decides to part ways with the PPRP, the party will lose an experienced broker in political circles.
Capt Thamanat stands accused of masterminding the campaign to oust Gen Prayut during the most recent censure debate. The plot allegedly involved a number of PPRP heavyweights and renegade members of micro-coalition partners and politicians in the main opposition Pheu Thai Party.
Stithorn Thananithichote, director of the Office of Innovation for Democracy at King Prajadhipok's Institute, told the Bangkok Post that if Capt Thananat leaves the PPRP, Gen Prayut may have to step in and handle party MPs himself, even though he is not as well-versed in the task compared to Capt Thamanat.
Mr Stithorn said that a total of 149 senators voted in favour of the charter amendment bill in its third and final reading -- considerably more than the minimum threshold of one-third of the Senate, or 84 senators -- which shows that Gen Prawit has total control not only over his party MPs, but also members of the Upper House.
Due to Gen Prawit's clout, Gen Prayut had to defer to Gen Prawit's insistence on restoring the two-ballot system, Mr Stithorn said.
The return of the two-ballot system may have been plotted by Gen Prawit and Capt Thamanat to thwart emerging parties such as the Move Forward Party (MFP), which is popular with many young voters, according to Mr Stithorn.
"While they could not stop major parties like Pheu Thai, they can thwart the MFP, whose predecessor -- the Future Forward Party -- benefited from the single-ballot system in the previous election," he said.
However, Gen Prayut still has a card up his sleeve which can guarantee his chances of staying on as prime minister for another term.
"Gen Prayut does not see Pheu Thai as a threat to the PPRP because he still has the support of the appointed 250 senators, who still stay on in office to vote for a prime minister after the next election.
These senators are not friendly enough [with the opposition] to support a prime ministerial candidate from Pheu Thai,'' Mr Stithorn said.
The 250 senators were appointed by the now-defunct National Council for Peace and Order, of which Gen Prayut was a former chief.
Mr Stithorn said that if Gen Prayut can patch up the internal rifts within the PPRP, it is likely that party members will rally behind him for another term, Mr Stithorn said.
Gen Prayut will need to close the distance between himself and party MPs and make himself more accessible, Mr Stithorn said.
The prime minister needs to listen to party MPs' requests and find ways to make it easier for them to campaign for votes in the next election, he said.
As for Pheu Thai, Mr Stithorn said he believes the main opposition party will end up as a shadow of its former self after the next election, with the MFP snatching votes from it.
However, another source at the PPRP told the Bangkok Post that Gen Prayut and Gen Prawit have ordered some cabinet ministers to ensure greater discipline among party MPs.
Deputy Finance Minister Santi Promphat was asked to control 39 MPs; Justice Minister Somsak Thepsuthin from the Sam Mitr ("Three Allies") group would handle 30 MPs; Digital Economy and Society Minister Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn was ordered to take care of 20 MPs, while Labour Minister Suchart Chomklin would be dealing with 20 MPs from micro coalition parties, the source said.
"If and when the organic law on elections is amended in line with the latest charter amendment bill, pressure will mount on the prime minister to dissolve the House to pave the way of an election.
"If the PM cannot bring Covid-19 under control and fix the economy, the PPRP is unlikely to win as many House seats as it has now,'' the source said.
Pheu Thai MP and chief opposition whip Sutin Klungsang admitted that even if the two-ballot system is restored, no one knows for sure if Pheu Thai will be able to gain a landside election victory as in the past.
Deputy Democrat Party leader Nipit Intharasombat told the Bangkok Post that Gen Prayut will stay on at least until the amended organic law on elections is enacted, adding he will then dissolve the House and call an election.
"I don't think the PM will want to serve another term given that he will face fierce resistance,'' Mr Nipit said.