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24 January, 2016 00:00 00 AM
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Thai PM’s temper faces tests

Graft, new charter could stretch Prayut to breaking point
WASSANA NANUAM
Thai PM’s temper faces tests
The New Year poses major challenges for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha - and his infamous temper. Photo: Apichart Jinakul

The New Year has brought with it a new Prayut Chan-o-cha. The prime minister is now answering questions from Government House reporters in a concise, clear and friendly manner. Gone are the monologue... 

The New Year has brought with it a new Prayut Chan-o-cha. The prime minister is now answering questions from Government House reporters in a concise, clear and friendly manner.
Gone are the monologue replies to simple questions as well as the ill-tempered barbs aimed at reporters.
But how long can the junta leader stay cool and keep his New Year resolution given the key challenges his government is facing?
Among the hard nuts the prime minister will have to crack are combatting corruption -- particularly graft where military personnel are implicated -- finding a new army chief, and having a new charter that truly addresses the need for reform.
The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) will have to brace itself for growing political discontent in the year ahead as the country prepares to make the transition back to democracy.
However, the immediate challenge for the military regime is to put a lid on the Rajabhakti Park scandal which has raised public concerns over transparency in the junta and exposed cracks in the personal relationships of some of its key figures.
When the controversy broke last year, it brought to light disharmony that has long existed between Deputy Defence Minister Udomdej Sitabutr, who initiated the park project, and army commander Theerachai Nakwanich, who is also the NCPO secretary-general.
As the scandal dragged on, it also revealed discord between Gen Udomdej and Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya, who oversees the government's main anti-graft efforts such as those undertaken by the Office of the Auditor-General and the Public Anti-Corruption Commission.
Gen Paiboon made it a point to confirm publicly that corruption existed in the park's construction in Prachuap Khiri Khan and vowed to find the wrongdoers. The deputy defence minister hit back calling on Gen Paiboon not to make Rajabhakti Park scandal comments because they could mislead the public.
Even though the Defence Ministry's fact-finding committee has given Rajabhakti Park a clean bill of health, the NCPO's opponents are not going to sit idly by.
The justice minister will be pressured by government critics to look into the case more thoroughly. However, political observers are certain that the scandal will not bring down the regime despite cracks emerging which have put unity within the NCPO to the test.
Another challenge for the NCPO and the government is to select a new army chief to replace Gen Theerachai, who retires in September.
Choosing a new chief is more important this year since the country will be closer to a general election, expected in mid-2017, provided the draft charter sails through a referendum in August. 
The political situation ahead of the election needs to be stable and the military regime will have to find an army chief who can help ensure that.
At this stage, there are two potential candidates for the top army post -- army chief-of-staff Gen Pisit Sitthisarn and assistant army chief Gen Chalermchai Sitthisat.
Gen Pisit, known to have close ties with Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, is the favourite to succeed Gen Theerachai, according to military observers.
Gen Chalermchai, meanwhile, is not from the dominant Burapha Phayak clique or Queen's Guard, so his chances are widely seen to be limited.
The Prayut administration can still count on undivided support from the military since all of the key figures are NCPO members.
The threat of a counter coup looks out of the question because army units capable of staging a putsch are in the firm grip of the Burapha Phayak clique and the Queen's Guard, which are loyal to Gen Prawit and Gen Prayut, according to military sources. 
At the same time, the NCPO and the government cannot ignore the challenge of convincing the people that the new charter being written by the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) is better than previous ones and will be responsive to national reform efforts. 
Contentious issues being incorporated into the draft constitution include a new electoral system, a non-MP as prime minister and a new Senate make-up. This could kick up a political storm for the junta, not to mention ruin the CDC's plan for a mechanism to head off future political crises and impasses, which could override the power of the government.     —Bangkok Post

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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