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Thailand’s Gen. Prawit Dismisses Post-Election Coup Concerns

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BANGKOK – Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister, Prawit Wongsuwon has dismissed the concern about post-election political unrest and military coup.

He was response comes after comments by two key members of the “pro-regime” Action Coalition for Thailand Party (ACT) that a military coup was possible if pro-democracy parties win in the March 24 election.

Suthep Thaugsuban, the former secretary-general of the defunct People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) street protest which led to the 2014 coup by Gen, Prayut, who vowed to never return to politics, once again urged people to join him on Ratchadamnoen Avenue, a well-known site for political rallies in Bangkok, if pro-democracy parties win in the upcoming poll.

“If [voters] choose these ‘Pheu’ parties, see you on Ratchadamnoen,” Suthep declared onstage in Pattani Province Tuesday.

He claimed these parties — Pheu Thai and its offshoots Pheu Chat and Pheu Tham, as well as Prachachat and Future Forward — were trying to bring former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra home a free man.

But Mr Suthep added he hoped it wouldn’t come to that and people must not to vote for these parties.

Benya Nandakwang, the 12th MP candidate on ACT’s party list and member of the now-defunct People’s Democratic Reform Committee, wrote on Facebook on the same day voters shouldn’t dream of unseating dictators with a pen.

“Do you play chess? Look at the game now. All pieces have been set. If this bogus pro-democracy side wins the election, there will be another coup. Is that what you want?” she wrote.

Gen Prawit, who is in charge of national security and also the defence minister, said on Friday he was not worried about the possible unrest and had not ordered a special watch on certain groups, including those in the restive South, but declined to comment further.

However, he was firm on the possibility of a coup. “It won’t happen.”

On the recent shift of focus to peace by the pro-regime party Palang Pracharath Party, Gen Prawit said he knew nothing about it and it was the party’s decision.

Some Palang Pracharath candidates have recently added a small banner across their existing campaign posters. The banner reads: “If you choose peace, Uncle Tu [Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s nickname] is the ultimate choice”.

Asked whether he would play a crucial role in forming the government on the night of the election day on Sunday, Gen Prawit said he didn’t know nor had he been contacted to do so.

Also on Friday, Srisuwan Janya, secretary-general of the Association for the Protection of the Constitution, filed a complaint with the Election Commission to probe Mr Suthep and Ms Benya for possible violations of the election law and sought the dissolution of the party.

“Both cases are threats and show no respect to voters,” Mr Srisuwan said.

“Their actions might have violated Section 93 of the MP election law, punishable by a jail term of 1-10 years and/or a fine of 20,000 to 200,000 baht,” he said.

The activist also asked the EC to send the cases to the Constitutional Court to ban them from politics for 20 years. “Their actions may have also breached the political party law and ACT could be disbanded.”

As the first general election in almost eight years draws near, parties have been forced to make clear their stands during public debates, reflecting the ongoing deep polarisation among people. They can be categorised into three groups.

The first consists of those supporting Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha and the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) that backs him. Besides PPRP, it consists of ACT, People Power Party and some small parties. Small as it is, this group is believed to have the votes of 250 senators being selected by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) headed by Gen Prayut.

The other group, led by Pheu Thai due to its size, consists of Pheu Chat, Pheu Tham, Prachachat, Bhumjaithai, Future Forward, Seri Ruam Thai and New Economics, as well as the Democrats to an extent.

They either insist a prime minister must be an MP, which Gen Prayut is not, or want MPs to be able to choose the prime minister by themselves, without the need for votes from the appointed 250 senators. The only way to do that is for them to win at least 376 votes. (see chart below)

Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva counted himself in this camp although he made clear PPRP might join his party if it agrees with his terms, which are believed to be to drop its support behind Gen Prayut and back him as prime minister instead. However, Mr Abhisit admitted the decision is his own and in line with the party’s ideology but not a party resolution.

The other group consists of mid-sized and small parties who refused to be clear, claiming to support whoever the people have chosen. They comprise Chart Pattana, Chartthaipattana and some others.

By Wassana Nanuam
The Bangkok Post