On July 10, Suthichai Yoon had an op-ed in The Nation entitled “General Prayuth’s dilemma: A single, dual or triple role?”. Key excerpts:
In one way, he doesn’t want to be seen as the “Supreme Leader”. But then, since he has decided to take the plunge, he will have to see the mission through – and most people around him have told him he will have to go through with it whatever it takes.
General Prayuth Chan-ocha, Army chief and head of the coup-makers who form the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), might have made the most difficult decision of his life so far when he decided to seize power on May 22. Now, a series of even more frustrating questions awaits him:
1. Does he want to be the prime minister while he is still NCPO chief?
2. Even more complicated is the question of whether he will also remain Army commander-in-chief at the same time.
A more likely scenario is that he will keep only the NCPO post, while retiring as Army chief to pave the way for one of his deputies to take his place in the military hierarchy.
He is of course experienced enough to realise that if he forces an extension of his term in the Army, no matter how close they are to him, those waiting to move up the ladder would begin to lose their loyalty and his power base would start to erode.
In that case, General Prayuth may be urged by his top advisers to concurrently lead the government so that he can carry on some of the main items on the national agenda.
Wassana in the Bangkok Post on July 10:
Will he or won’t he? That is the question many people are asking about National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) leader Prayuth Chan-ocha, and whether he will stay on as army chief after his mandatory retirement this September.
Under the circumstances, there are three possibilities for the military strongman.
Firstly, he may take the premiership and immediately resign from the army, while keeping only the NCPO top job. But this is least likely as he would have no grip on military power.
Secondly, he might take the premiership, and stay on as both NCPO leader and army chief. Then he would abandon the army on Sept 30 upon his mandatory retirement.
Thirdly, he would take all positions but at the same time test public sentiment to see if Thais support him staying longer.
If so, he may seek an extension of his term as army chief for another year to oversee the plan to achieve democracy, with the introduction of the 2015 constitution, followed by elections expected to take place in early October.
Even though the third option is most likely, army officers hope Gen Prayuth will not linger after his retirement. This is because the general has been in the top army post for almost four years — a long period compared with his predecessors — and that has blocked younger commander-level officers from climbing the career ladder.
Thai Rath‘s Sunday political analysis on July 20 stated (summarized translation below of key points):
Everything points in the direction of Prayuth having absolute power. The sharing of power rests with Prayuth as he can choose what happens regarding the 3 positions of Army C-in-C, Head of NCPO, and PM. Prayuth extending his retirement affects officers which are junior to him as they would have promotions delayed for one year. It is clear that Prayuth will be PM. For other positions, you need to look at who within the NCPO has been given important positions.
Wassana in the Bangkok Post on July 29:
National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) chief Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha is expected to take up the roles of both prime minister and NCPO chief in the new cabinet line-up.
According to a source, Gen Prayuth will take the two top posts while former army chief Gen Anupong Paojinda is tipped to become a deputy prime minister and defence minister.
Gen Prayuth has a close relationship with Gen Anupong, the source said, adding that they served in the Queen’s Guard and the Burapha Phayak task force together.
ACM Itthiporn Supawong, a former air force chief, is tipped to become a deputy defence minister while air force commander ACM Prajin Jantong will become a deputy prime minister and transport minister, said the source.
Supreme Commander Gen Tanasak Patimapragorn is set to become foreign minister and assistant army chief Gen Paiboon Khumchaya, head of judicial affairs for the NCPO, will likely be permanent secretary for defence and interior minister.
Matichon on July 29 has their list of who will be in the Cabinet:
Gen. Prawit as Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister
Gen. Anupong as Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister
ACM Prajin as Transport Minister
Then the article lists other military officers who are expected to be in the Cabinet and includes Gen. Tanasak, Gen. Paiboon, Navy chief Narong Pipattanasai, Gen. Daopong etc.
Thai Rath‘s political analysis of July 31 states that alternative list has Gen. Prawit and Gen. Anpuong on the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) instead.
1. One thing to look for on who will miss out on being a Minister is to look at who will be in the NLA (remember the NLA votes on the PM so we will know the NLA members first). The relevance of this is that under Section 8 of the interim Constitution a person cannot be on the NLA and Minister at the same time so anyone who will be in the NLA won’t be a Minister in the first Cabinet.*
2. It appears almost certain that Prayuth will remain as head of the NCPO. Head of the NCPO is the most powerful political position under the Constitution so BP sees no chance that he will give this up. Next, it appears most likely Prayuth will also take the position of PM, but it is not 100% guaranteed as the position could go to another senior military figure if Prayuth wants to divided up the roles more. Whether Prayuth will extend his term as Army C-in-C and delay his retirement have died down with focus being on the Constitution, PM and Cabinet, and NLA and there is still plenty of time to decide (likely to know in September). BP’s gut feeling is that he will retire and let an army officer close to him replace him (Prayuth would then be head of NCPO and PM) for the reasons outlined by Suthichai and Wassana that continuing as Army C-in-C beyond his scheduled retirement would cause unease in the ranks. Then again, Prayuth still has time to decide on this and to see the direction on things will go over the next two months, so this may change.
3. All signs are that current and ex-military will make up between 50-65% of the NLA with academics, NGOs and former Senators making up the remaining. This then gives Prayuth a lock on legislation as the pro-establishment faction of the NLA is likely to be over 80%. The only question that BP has really is whether Prayuth will allow any prominent non-establishment figures not aligned with/supportive of the military into the NLA. Leaked details to the papers don’t make any mention of this. Nevertheless, even if the NLA is almost completely dominated by pro-establishment figures Prayuth will still likely in the future face a problem from a vocal minority within the establishment camp. When they are against Thaksin, everyone is united, but when they are in government/power then the anti-Thaksin coalition becomes fractured as they have different views on policies, e.g. energy. This vocal minority will be something to watch for as Prayuth will find that, over time, governing is not that easy…
* This prohibition is only against someone being a member of the NLA and Minister at the same time so it is possible they could resign from the NLA and then be appointed Minister but this would not make much sense for the first Cabinet (for a Cabinet reshuffle it is a possibility).