Politicians on Monday called on Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to play by the rules after he declared an interest in remaining in the political fray.
Even though the prime minister on Monday continued to keep things vague when discussing his political future, critics took his comments as a hint that he will seek a return to power and urged him to play fair in the run-up to the general election.
“I am interested in politics because I care whether policies have succeeded and if they will be continued. But that’s all I can tell you for today. I’ll let you know again what I decide and who I will support,” Gen Prayut told reporters at Government House on Monday.
He also insisted he would not step down as prime minister or chief of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).
Key Chartthaipattana figure, Paradorn Prissananantakul, on Monday welcomed Gen Prayut’s interest in the political realm, but said the prime minister would have to give assurances he would follow the rules and play fair.
Mr Paradorn said the premier, up to now, had presented himself as an impartial “referee” but now he would have to balance this political role and answer to the public over his actions.
“Gen Prayut must ask himself if he is ready to accept public judgement if the election doesn’t go his way,” said Mr Paradorn.
Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva on Monday joined calls for Gen Prayut to make the upcoming poll free and fair, whether or not he decides to seek returning to the top job.
Mr Abhisit said Gen Prayut has to ensure that he does not exploit his role as premier to make political gains.
Varawut Silpa-archa, another key member of the Chartthaipattana Party, said the premier’s remark about his interest in politics is open to interpretation.
According to Mr Varawut, the most feasible option for Gen Prayut is to become a candidate for prime minister nominated by a political party as time has run out for him to contest elections under any one particular party’s banner.
However, he said it was not his job to speculate and the issue will be cleared up after a royal decree formally announces the date of the general election.
Pheu Thai and red-shirt members on Monday challenged Gen Prayut to openly contest the polls while expressing scepticism of his ability to lead the nation without his current executive powers.
Korkaew Pikulthong, a former Pheu Thai list-MP, said he would like to see the prime minister stand in the elections to ensure his return to the top post is untainted and free of suspicion.
However, he said the political landscape would be different after the polls when he no longer has Section 44 powers and full military support, and this should have a bearing on how he navigates potential reelection.
The government will come under close scrutiny from the opposition and face pressure from coalition partners, while street protests and gatherings of various groups to lodge complaints would be the norm, he said.
“If he is really interested in politics and thinks he’s up to the challenge, he should enter the race,” he said.
Worachai Hema, another former Pheu Thai MP, for Samut Prakan, said on Monday Gen Prayut’s interest in politics hints that he will seek a return through a pro-military party.
He said Gen Prayut should give up his executive powers before the poll and follow the same rules as the other parties if he wants to remain in the political arena.
Gen Prayut’s remark comes less than a week after he refused to be drawn on the matter when asked by reporters.
The prime minister had earlier said he would clarify his plans this month after the last two organic laws on the election of MPs and on the Senate were published in the Royal Gazette and the ban on political activities was eased.
Meanwhile, a cabinet shake-up is highly anticipated after PM’s Office Minister Kobsak Pootrakool admitted on Monday he is ready to accept the post of Phalang Pracharat Party spokesman if he is selected for the role.
The Phalang Pracharat Party, known to be affiliated with the military regime and widely reported as a vehicle to back Gen Prayut, will hold a general assembly this Saturday to select a party leader and executives.
Mr Kobsak is widely tipped to be named party spokesman while Industry Minister Uttama Savanayana and Commerce Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong are speculated to become leader and secretary-general respectively.
Mr Kobsak declined to discuss the possibility of other ministers joining Phalang Pracharat, saying things will be clearer on Saturday.