THAILAND’S ruling army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha on Monday said he was interested in pursuing a political career ahead of the elections that must be held by May next year, sparking concern among the kingdom’s pro-democracy activists.
His remarks came amid wide speculation of his apparent ambition to stay in office as prime minister after the military relinquishes its five-year rule over the country, making way for a democratically-elected government.
During a press conference at the Government House, Prayuth said he had yet to decide which party he would support, according to Khaosod English.
“I can answer right now that I am interested in a politics job,” Prayuth said.
“As for my decision of who I will support, it’s another matter that takes some time. I will tell you later.”
He said he was joining politics out patriotism, even if it meant that would be turning in his uniform.
“I used the term ‘interested in politics’ because I love my country, like all Thais who love their country,” Prayuth said.
“But ultimately, it’s up to the people to have their say in the future.”
Prayuth’s move to announce his interest in politics came with little or no surprise to observers, as speculation that he would seek a return to power after a civilian government is installed began circulating last year.
The country is also seeing campaign-style events being held to beef up Prayuth’s publicity machine eventhough he had yet to fully indicate his intention to run for office.
The events are taking place amid a backdrop of several parties show signs of rallying for Prayuth, including the Palang Pracharat Party, which has been “poaching” former Pheu Thai Party opposition members into its ranks, according to Khaosod.
Under the Constitution, Prayuth cannot run for office if the election is held in February 2019 because it stipulates that he would need to resign from his post in 2017 in order to compete.
To circumvent the hurdle, Prayuth could be nominated a frontrunner for the post by a political party.
Another route Prayuth could take through the military-backed Constitution is by being elected as an “outside prime minister” upon the nomination of the House of Representatives and military-appointed Senate if the winning party’s candidate fails to secure enough votes.
Prayuth’s junta government, previously known as the National Council of Peace and Order, has promised to lift its ban on political activities before the elections.
Watana Muangsook, a member of the opposition Puea Thai Party, welcomed Prayuth’s participation in the next election but said he must first give up his post as junta chief.
“You may join whichever party, but you should resign as junta chief to lay down your weapons and play fair like everybody else,” Watana told Reuters.