Thai public must have stay on Prayut staying on as PM

Thai public must have stay on Prayut staying on as PM

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha's recent clear hint that he is ready to continue in his post to reform the country has become a hot political topic, dominating other political news.

The move is not unprecedented as the same suggestion was proposed in May - but it got no response from Prayut and the offer to continue in power was met with opposition.

At that time, the National Reform Council (NRC) proposed an amendment to Article 308 of the charter draft. The original version of the provision said that after the charter takes effect, a general election must be called within 90 days and senators selected within 150 days. The amendment proposed that after the charter took effect, a public referendum be held to decide if the people agreed with implementing reform for two years before calling a general election.

The sentiment has picked up this time after NRC member Manoon Siriwan explained the reason behind the amendment proposal to the charter drafters. Reporters then asked Prayut last Thursday and he said if the people wanted him to stay in power for another two years, he would - but they would have to find a way to protect him against allegations levelled domestically or internationally that he wanted to cling to power.

During the joint meeting of the NRC, the National Legislative Assembly and the Cabinet on the same day, NRC member Paiboon Nititawan asked Prayut again - and the PM affirmed the same stance.

With the PM's firm decision to continue working, some NRC members have made a new proposal - asking voters who want "reform before election" to sign a petition and send to the PM, calling for holding a plebiscite on whether a reform should be implemented for two years before a general election was held.

This method would lead to an amendment of the 2014 provisional charter to pave the way for a referendum to be held for the purpose. It would speed up the referendum process more than the amendment of Article 308. Besides, if this political channel failed, lawmakers could opt to amend provision 308 of the charter draft as another way to help Prayut continue in his post.

Paiboon is a former senator from the group of 40 ex-senators who joined the People's Democratic Alliance for Democracy (PDRC) in ousting the Yingluck government. It is not surprising that Phra Buddha Issara, another core PDRC leader, also volunteered to lead the campaign to gather 50,000 signatures to hold a plebiscite.

The move to implement reform two years before calling a general election is equal to the move to have Prayut stay in power for another two years. No one can give a clear answer what the two-year reform is about. Does it mean to solve major problems facing the country - or to draft a new charter - or to dissolve political or national division? During its campaign to oust the Yingluck government, one of the PDRC's major demands was to implement reforms before a general election.

PDRC ex-chief Phra Suthep Paphakaro recently said he would leave the monkhood because "the country had a situation that needed his help".

It appears that the moves happened coincidentally and simultaneously - but Paiboon immediately dismissed speculation that Phra Suthep would join his move to seek the people's signatures, saying he had not been in touch with the monk.

Another coincidental move involved political groups and politicians who had said in April they did not mind if a general election was postponed for a few years so that charter drafting could be completed, as they preferred a democratic charter.

Those led to the big question - whether it was an intended plot to delay the election. Prayut himself has never shut the door on staying longer than the government's road map to democracy. Although Prayut always insisted that "the road map is on schedule" he also said "everything depends on the situation".

Prayut's major concern in continuing his administration is not domestic pressure - since he believes he is in control - but opposition from abroad, which is beyond his control. The pressure from foreign communities could negatively affect the business sector and bring about serious business damage.

Only if Prayut receives public backing to continue in his post with legitimacy - like through a public referendum - should he think twice about staying in power for another two years.

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