Opinion: Prayut Can Spare Thailand from Further Pain and Political Impasse by Calling for Snap Election

PM Prayut Chan-o-cha speaks to reporters at Government House on Aug. 16, 2022.
PM Prayut Chan-o-cha speaks to reporters at Government House on Aug. 16, 2022.

The biggest question in Thai politics today is whether Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha will continue to be Prime Minister after completing eight years in office on Tuesday, Aug. 23.

On Friday, Prayut evaded answering the question from reporters, but it is expected that the Constitutional Court will say something about the matter on Monday or Tuesday as Article 60 of the current 2017 junta-sponsored constitution forbids anyone from being a PM beyond eight years.

Prayut supporters said since the charter came into effect after Prayut first came to power after a coup in 2014, the counting should begin in 2017 when the current charter was promulgated, not 2014 when he first became a PM after a putsch.

His opponents expected the Constitutional Court to say Prayut’s term is ending on Tuesday, however.

Many have called for him to resign on Tuesday. But even if the court ruled that Prayut’s term ends on Aug. 23, Prayut’s chief legal advisor-cum-deputy-PM Wissanu Krea-ngam insisted on Friday that Prayut could stay on in power as the caretaker PM and retain the power to dissolve the House.

This is a clear signal from the regime that Prayut is unlikely to relinquish his power, which he originally obtained through illegitimate means back in 2014 to begin with, and later through the general election in 2019 with election rules designed to favor him and those supporting the military regime.

If Prayut insists on not resigning, we can expect legal challenges being lodged to the Constitutional Court after Aug. 23. Prayut could spare the public and Thailand further pain and political impasse by dissolving the House and call for a snap election. Returning the mandate to the people will allow Thailand to have a clear direction after many wasted years. By doing so, Prayut will for once be doing Thailand a service.

If he chose to stay on, either as a caretaker PM or as PM (in case the Constitutional Court ruled that the counting of his 8 years limit should begin in 2019), then he would increasingly become a sitting duck leader. What’s more, his future actions starting Wednesday, Aug. 24, could be regarded as illegitimate and subject to lengthy legal challenges.

While this writer think Prayut is an illegitimate leader from the day he staged the coup in May 2014, Prayut now has the chance to spare Thailand from further crisis and uncertainty.

Already, Thailand’s economic growth has been close to the bottom of ASEAN for years now. We would be fortunate if the GDP could grow more than 2 percent this year. A foreign friend who has a business in Thailand told me a few days ago that he feels sorry for Thailand’s lost opportunity over the past years and it seems there is no clarity or end on the horizon.

This is what Prayut can at least do for us after all these years in power. You have been in power for far too long, illegitimate from the very beginning, some will argue.

Once upon a time, there was an army chief by the name of Prayut Chan-o-cha who staged a coup in 2014 and soon after penned a song asking the public for “a little more time” to sort things out.

It’s been eight years now and probably Prayut of 2022 does not even remember the song now. So much for a little more time.