Thailand’s strongman is back (

Prayut Chan-o-cha defending himself as prime minister in 2019. He is allowed to remain in power.

Prayut Chan-o-cha defending himself as prime minister in 2019. He is allowed to remain in power.

Prayut Chan-o-cha defending himself as prime minister in 2019. He is allowed to remain in power.

Photo: picture alliance/dpa/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire | Chaiwat Subprasome

Taxi driver Chumphon Samakthai (63) shows no restraint. He doesn’t think much of the government. Not only because, in terms of democracy, it is “the same thing in green” as the putschist regime in neighboring Myanmar. But also because people suffered economically. “Gasoline has gone up four baht per liter. But the price for the route has remained the same,” says the man, who has been driving a taxi for 37 years and previously used the tuk-tuk (motorized rickshaw) for five years. Not only he would have liked to see Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha go permanently, but also a large part of the population in the kingdom. The man who has been at the helm of politics since 2014 has lost a lot of his initial popularity. But the 68-year-old will stay with the Thais for a while. With a majority of six to three votes, the constitutional court ruled on Friday that his term of office, which is limited to eight years according to the constitution, does not begin until April 6, 2017, the very day on which the new Basic Law came into force.

The Pheu Thai Party (PT), in particular, as the largest opposition force in parliament, sees things differently and appealed to Thailand’s highest legal authority. The plaintiffs argued that Prayut had already formally moved to the head of the government on August 24, 2014 and that the eight years should therefore apply from this point in time. He was therefore temporarily suspended five weeks before the current verdict, his deputy Prawit Wongsuwon stepped in. On Monday, Prayut himself resumed official business. The first official act was a conference with the provincial governors, followed by a cabinet meeting on Tuesday and a visit to a flooded province on Wednesday. The prime minister has already announced that in the coming six months, until the legislative period of parliament expires on March 23 and the regular elections will probably take place in May, he will continue at full speed and want to implement upcoming projects.

Disappointed with the judge’s verdict, although they accept it, the PT showed itself in a first statement on Friday. The opposition Move Forward Party reacted similarly. On the very day the controversial verdict was announced, the first small protests broke out in the capital. They took place in a decentralized manner because a high-security zone was set up around the court and the seat of government until Monday. A larger police force should ensure that critics do not gather there. The extra-parliamentary opposition nevertheless showed the flag at various points in the city area. The melting pot group, which also sees itself in the tradition of the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, aka red shirts, which is loosely affiliated with the PT, was also there, as was a student collection movement and the Labor Network for People’s Rights.

On Saturday, a group of around 500 people gathered for a rally by the opposition movement Thalufa at the Victory Monument, a monument with a roundabout in the northern part of the city that has traditionally been popular for demonstrations. The atmosphere was rather relaxed, with this number of participants there could be no question of a real mass march. Unlike in July and August 2020, when thousands upon thousands of mostly young people took to the streets and demanded not just a simple departure from the Prayut government, but also far-reaching reforms of the political system of the constitutional monarchy. Since then, the movement’s power to mobilize has noticeably diminished.

As army chief, Prayut was the driving force behind the bloodless coup that toppled the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra (PT) in May 2014 in an era of political infighting. She is the younger sister of ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in a 2006 coup. Both fled into exile. Prayut’s closest allies are his current deputy Prawit and Interior Minister Anupong Pajinda, who was army chief until his retirement in 2010. The prime minister himself gained pro forma democratic legitimacy in the 2019 election, when the newly founded regime party PPRP won and various other parties volunteered to secure a majority.


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