Opinion: Was the Temporary Suspension of PM Prayut, Good News, Bad News, Or a Sick Joke?

Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha works as the defense minister at his office at the Ministry of Defense on Aug. 26, 2022. Photo: Ministry of Defense
Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha works as the defense minister at his office at the Ministry of Defense on Aug. 26, 2022. Photo: Ministry of Defense

The Constitutional Court on Wednesday suspended Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha as PM for up to a month while adjudicating whether he has reached his eight-year limit of term in office as stipulated by the junta-sponsored 2017 charter or not.

The process could take up to a month and Prayut was replaced by former deputy junta leader Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan, who happens to also the First Deputy PM.

Is this good news? Bad news? Or just a sick joke? It depends on how optimistic, pessimistic or realistic you are.

Optimistically speaking, at least the rule of law is prevailing with Prayut and his dwindling supporters obeying the court’s order. Remember the Constitutional Court played no role to say whether a coup, led by Prayut back in 2014, was constitutional or not.

In an optimistic view, Thailand is assuredly moving in the right direction with a snap or general elections around the corner, so the latest development is something to be welcomed.

This is better than a specter of political street violence and yet another possible military coup. Whether Prayut eventually survives the court’s eventual ruling or not, people on all sides of the political divide will have weeks to calm themselves down and be prepared for Thailand’s next political chapter.

What’s more, the weeks ahead is a good opportunity for all political parties to start pre-campaigning and present the public with alternative PM for the next general election. Essentially the ruling will be good news, no matter what.

To others, the situation is bad news or even a sick joke for the following reasons.

First, there is no guarantee that Prayut will eventually be forced to end his term in office after the adjudication. Out of the nine Constitutional Court judges, the vote to temporarily suspend Prayut was hair splitting five against four.

The fact that deputy junta leader Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan has become the caretaker PM means more of the same. To make the matter worse, it offers the powers that be an opportunity to groom and introduce another conservative candidate for a possible post-Prayut Thailand.

In the worst-case scenario, it is bad news because the Constitutional Court could eventually rule that Prayut could stay many more years as PM since the current charter was promulgated only in 2017, so Prayut could be PM until 2025.

Or worse, the court could rule that the counting should start in 2019 when Prayut was voted by the parliament after the election as PM. This means he could serve as PM until 2027 since he was not a PM chosen by the parliament after the 2014 coup until 2019 – he basically decided to make himself PM after the coup.

Such ruling would in effect give Prayut a license to rule for years to come as long as gets voted back next year by the next parliament. Distrust runs deep. After all, all members of the current Constitutional Court were approved in the selection process by the junta-appointed senate. Some feel this could be nothing but a time-buying charade.

In such scenario, Thailand can expect more intense street protests, possible violent confrontation between both sides followed by a military coup. Then it is another round of vicious cycle where fundamental political rights of Thai citizens are being trampled again.

Dear readers: are you optimistic or pessimistic? Could the truth be somewhere between the best and worst case scenarios?