Prayut must prove mettle

As post-election political bargaining intensifies, with different camps fiercely competing for a chance to form a coalition, the idea of "political reform" has become blurred, if not forgotten.

In the March 24 poll, after the Election Commission decided to award one party-list seat to each of 12 small, lesser-known parties that received fewer than the expected minimum threshold of 71,000 votes, the pro-regime Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) is now moving at full speed to form a coalition. Bargaining over cabinet seats is currently ongoing between the PPRP and potential coalition parties.

The PPRP reportedly wanted to take all the "Grade A" ministerial positions, especially those related to economic affairs such as finance, transport, commerce and agriculture, and key parties considering joining their coalition, most notably the Democrats and Bhumjaithai, were not happy with that.

In addition, those potential partners have told the PPRP that they can help secure the prime minister's position for Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, but they want to see certain core regime figures, like Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, who is the deputy chief of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), and Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda, out of the new cabinet.

Leading a coalition of as many as 20 parties will be a challenge for Gen Prayut and the PPRP.

Relying on too many parties is one of the main disadvantages of a coalition government and political instability can set in.

Still, every coin has two sides as a coalition allows the government to have more choices for cabinet seats.

Thailand is now experiencing an economic slowdown. The Fiscal Policy Office has reduced its 2019 growth forecast to 3.8% from 4% as a depressed global economy takes a toll on exports.

The lower estimate came after merchandise shipments in US dollar terms shrank 1.6% for the first three months, compared with the target of 2% growth.

Meanwhile, consumer confidence fell to its lowest level in 16 months in April as the public fretted over political instability and the slowing domestic economy, according to the latest survey by the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce.

Restoring the economy is the priority for the new government.

The military-led government led by Gen Prayut is seen to have failed in solving bread and butter problems based on opinion polls over the past five years.

With regard to this, Gen Prayut and the PPRP should give up the country's economic portfolios in the new government. At the same time, coalition parties should abandon the tradition of "political quotas" when bargaining for ministerial seats and, instead, try to put the right people in the right jobs. Those with talent and ability should be given a chance to be a minister, even if they are not politicians or financial supporters of any coalition parties.

Gen Prayut and the NCPO, which is widely believed to pull the strings of the PPRP, must sacrifice their respected yet unpopular brothers in arms if Gen Prayut eventually achieves a mandate to form the government.

In such a case, Gen Prayut must prove his worthiness to lead the country under democratic rules by eradicating those unfavourable NCPO members, including Gen Prawit, and bringing good and efficient people into the cabinet instead.

Gen Prayut has talked the talk, now he must walk the walk on political reform, or the past five years of his rule will have been a waste of time for the country.

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