Thai PM Prayut decries coup conjecture as 'fake news'

Thai PM Prayut decries coup conjecture as 'fake news'

Thai Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-O-Cha, pictured here in November 2018, dismissed rumours of
Thai Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-O-Cha, pictured here in November 2018, dismissed rumours of an impending coup as "fake news". (Photo: AFP/Odd Andersen)

BANGKOK: Thailand's prime minister on Monday (Feb 11) dismissed rumours of an impending coup as "fake news", as speculation ricocheted across a kingdom unsettled by the ill-fated political union between a princess and a party allied to the powerful Shinawatra clan.

Conjecture has coursed through Thailand since Friday when the Thai Raksa Chart party proposed Princess Ubolratana, King Maha Vajiralongkorn's elder sister, as a candidate for prime minister after the Mar 24 election.

Hours later, a royal command from the king appeared to put a pin in her unprecedented political aspirations.

It said the monarchy was above politics and described his sister's candidacy as "highly inappropriate".

READ: Sister of Thai king Princess Ubolratana to run for PM in March election

READ: Party that nominated Thai princess for PM faces ban after king's rebuke

The slapdown by an unassailable monarch - protected by some of the world's harshest royal defamation laws - who has never addressed the public in such strong terms, set off a chain reaction.

A chastened Thai Raksa Chart, a key pillar in the election strategy of billionaire ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, swiftly agreed to comply with the command.

Election authorities meeting Monday are expected to discuss whether the use of the princess's name was unconstitutional, a first step towards dissolving the party.

READ: Thai election commission to rule on princess running for PM after king's rebuke

Adding to the uncertainty, chatter of an impending coup against the ruling party leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha and a major change in army top brass has billowed out, with the hashtag #coup trending in the top 10 in Thai Twitter.

But on Monday the gruff former general, who masterminded a putsch against the government of Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin's sister, in 2014, tried to stop it short.

"Rumours ... ? We're investigating. Fake news," he told reporters at Government House about the merits of the speculation.

COUPS AND PLOTS

Thailand's generals have a penchant for coups, backroom plotting and factional struggles.

They have grabbed power 12 times since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932, including against existing factions seen to have over-stepped their mark.

Prayut, a gruff ex-army chief turned political head, has agreed to stand for premier after the election and is aided by an army-scripted constitution.

But critics say he has personalised power and outstayed his welcome with a public wearied by his finger-jabbing style.

The king appointed a new army chief, Apirat Kongsompong, last year from a rival faction of the army to Prayut and his allies.

Recent days have seeded unease, with the first election in eight years now seemingly dependent on behind-the-scenes power plays by the elite.

"Pls#NoMoreCoup WTF with this country," said one Twitter user, while another said "I wish we have only #election2019".

Meanwhile, the fate of Thai Raksa Chart hangs in the balance.

The party, a second to the Thaksin political powerhouse Pheu Thai, was expected to help the Shinawatra machine secure a majority in the 350-seat lower house.

But it is under intense pressure following its bid to bring in the princess.

"I think the party leader and board should take a responsibility by resigning," said Srisuwan Janya of the Association for the Protection of the Constitution, a royalist activist group, who submitted a petition to election authorities Monday calling for the party's censure.

Source: AFP/ga

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