List of contenders for Thai Prime Minister | The star

THE Constitutional Court suspended Prayut Chan-Ocha as prime minister last week, fueling speculation the royal establishment is seeking to replace the former coup leader ahead of elections due to be called by March .

The court deliberates on whether the former general exceeded the eight-year term limit added to a constitution drafted after the 2014 coup – a provision aimed at preventing popular elected officials from holding on to power too long .

In this case, Prayut is an increasingly unpopular leader and a recent opinion poll shows him trailing behind a possible opposition candidate. And that’s partly because of his handling of the economy, which is expected to see the slowest expansion in Southeast Asia this year and see the fastest inflation in 14 years.

Whatever the court’s decision, Prayut’s time in power is limited and it could prompt a search for his replacement within political and military circles in Thailand.

Here is an overview of the candidates that the royalist Thai military establishment could support:

> Prawit Wongsuwan, 77 years old

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, who is in charge after Prayut was suspended, has a chance. Before turning to politics, Prawit was one of the leading figures in Burapha Payak, or the Eastern Tigers faction within the Thai military.

The retired general heads the ruling Palang Pracharath party and is the “big brother” to the government power known as the “3P”, which includes Prayut and Home Minister Anupong Paochinda.

In the latest no-confidence vote against the government, Prawit received the strongest support from lawmakers among the 3Ps.

An opinion poll in early 2022 showed little public support for Prawit as the next prime minister. It may have to do with when he was investigated for failing to declare his assets. He was later cleared of any wrongdoing.

> Apirat Kongsompong, 62 years old

Former army chief Apirat Kongsompong is a strong contender given his public loyalty to King Maha Vajiralongkorn, who nominated him to serve on the Privy Council.

He led the military for two years from 2018 and hails from the Wongthewan, or King’s Guard, military faction that rivals 3P’s Eastern Tigers.

His charisma and commanding presence make him an attractive candidate, enough to draw establishment support and push for a change in the allegiances of Prayut’s supporters.

> Ampon Kittiampon, 66 years old

Another member of the Privy Council, Ampon Kittiampon, is another preferred replacement given his links to the palace and his experience in government and finance. He is the technocrat of this group of suitors, having served as chairman of the Central Bank of Thailand and Thai Airways as well as secretary of a government economic planning agency.

Ampon, who has also served as Cabinet Secretary to three governments, was once considered a potential ‘foreign prime minister’ candidate in the 2019 election. That was just in case Prayut, who was the only pro-establishment name on an approved list of candidates, did not obtain the support of Parliament.

> Anutin Charnvirakul, 55 years old

One of Prayut’s six deputy prime ministers, Anutin Charnvirakul, may be on the minds of the powerful.

Party leader Bhumjaithai played the role of kingmaker in the 2019 elections before eventually siding with Palang Pracharath and securing the Health Ministry portfolio.

A US embassy cable released by WikiLeaks identified Anutin in 2009 as a close associate of the king, who was then crown prince. A construction magnate before joining politics, Anutin was on an approved list of candidates for prime minister in recent polls.

He could be considered prime minister in case the Constitutional Court decides that Prayut should step down. —Bloomberg

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