January 10, 2023
BANGKOK – There is still work to be done to upgrade and develop Thailand, said Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, and this is why he must return as premier – to complete the job.
“I want to stay on as premier not because of power or benefits…. but because there is unfinished work… The country must move forward,” he said on Monday at his first public address after becoming a member of Ruam Thai Sang Chart (United Thai Nation Party, or UTN).
Addressing a sea of supporters decked out in the party colours of red, blue and white at the 10,000-capacity hall in the Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre, Mr Prayut said he was in this position today because he respected Thailand’s democratic process.
He also promised to fix issues like corruption and poverty, but said he could not solve these by himself – which was why he joined the UTN.
Mr Prayut was officially inducted as a UTN member at the event, which marked the launch of the party’s election campaign.
The party affirmed its support for him, with UTN leader Pirapan Salirathavibhaga saying that the party hopes to lead the next government under the guidance of Mr Prayut.
Mr Pirapan said the 27,000-strong party, which was formed in 2021, aims to restore unity and peace in Thailand.
The UTN was purportedly formed as a vehicle to support Mr Prayut’s re-election bid. Mr Pirapan was appointed secretary-general of the Prime Minister’s Office in December.
Thailand’s next election is due by May 7 if Parliament is not dissolved before the end of its term in late March.
UTN must secure at least 25 of the 500 MP seats during the polls to be able to nominate Mr Prayut as its PM candidate. The Senate and MPs will vote for a premier from among the eligible candidates nominated by their respective parties.
Among those who attended Monday’s ceremony were several prominent figures such as Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai and former Bangkok governor Asawin Kwanmuang. The latter is said to be joining the party soon.
UTN also introduced about 30 new party members, including veteran politician Trairong Suwankiri, who quit the Democrat party earlier last year. Several former and current MPs from other parties are also rumoured to be joining the party in the coming weeks.
In late December, Mr Prayut said he would seek a third term as premier under the UTN banner, confirming months-long speculation that he would leave the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) that currently leads the government coalition.
UTN’s support for his re-election comes despite an eight-year constitutional limit on any premier’s tenure that would allow him to serve only half of a full four-year term should he win a third term.
Mr Prayut first became PM in 2014 after staging a coup that same year. While he was never an official member of the PPRP, the pro-military party had successfully supported his return to the premiership in the 2019 election.
But his departure from the PPRP had been imminent, given the widening rift between Mr Prayut and party leader Prawit Wongsuwan. The PPRP wants to nominate Mr Prawit as its PM candidate in the coming election.
The two military men were once seen as close allies, but political differences have reportedly driven a wedge between them. However, Mr Prayut insists that their ties remain strong.
There have been signs of strain in the closely watched alliance among Mr Prayut, Mr Prawit and another former military-man-turned-politician, Mr Anupong Paochinda. All three played key roles in the 2014 coup and are dubbed the “Three Ps” by local media.
Mr Anupong, who is Interior Minister, told local media that he has no plans to join the UTN and hinted at plans to retire.