Thai junta chief may become PM if no ‘better person’ found

Junta chief announces his willingness to become prime minister of Thailand following the planned 2017 election, after setting up a political party which will open its doors to retired military officials.

Photo by: AA (Archive)
Photo by: AA (Archive)

The junta Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha [right] speaking to press.

Prime Minister of Thailand Prayuth Chan-ocha  – who also leads the military junta ruling the country – said on Wednesday he would continue in his post after an election planned to take place by the end of next year.

However, he has a "reasonable" condition: only if no other "good people" can be found.

He said, "I think there are several prominent figures in Thailand who are better than me."

"But if you cannot find any good persons, then turn to me."

This is the first time he has indicated his intention to continue in his role as prime minister which he assumed after coming to power in the coup of 2014, in which at least 28 people were killed and 700 others injured.

The statement came a few days after Paiboon Nititawan, a former junta-appointed National Reform Council member, announced that there would be a political party whose "doors will be open to retired military officers."

Nititawan has suggested Chan-ocha would be the "right person" for the leadership of the proposed People’s Reform Party,

Nititawan said, "I believe nobody will become prime minister of this state except Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha."

A draft charter written by a junta-appointed committee of legal experts and accepted in an Aug. 7 vote paves the way for a "non-elected outsider" to become prime minister.

According to the draft, each political party with representatives in the lower house of parliament after the 2017 election can submit the names of three MPs for the top post to a vote.

If there is no agreement the junta-appointed senate will step in. During a joint session of the two houses their members will vote together for a prime minister who can be a "non-elected outsider" – for instance a retired bureaucrat, or a retired military officer.

However, discussions are presently taking place among members of the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly regarding a possible change to the constitution that would alter the selection process.

According to the proposal, from the very beginning a joint session of both houses would instead take place which would appoint a prime minister from a list of elected MPs and non-elected outsiders.

On Wednesday Chan-ocha appeared unhappy over the proposed change.

"Wouldn’t that violate what the draft charter says?" he asked during the weekly briefing.

On Wednesday, Nipit Intarasombat, the deputy-leader of the Democrat Party – long seen as pro-establishment but which opposed the passing of the current charter ahead of the referendum on it earlier this month  – warned against further changes.

"Nobody can bypass MPs because they are authorized by the draft charter to be the first people to pick prime ministerial candidates from the political parties’ lists," he told the Bangkok Post.

"The senate can only step in to join the lower house in the selection process of a prime minister if MPs fail to choose one."

The establishment of a party open to retired military officers is reminiscent of the events of 1992, when a pro-military party was formed allowing 1991 coup leader Gen. Suchinda Kraprayoon to become prime minister.

Kraprayoon's rule as premier – which began on April 7, 1992 – was relatively short-lived.

In a matter of weeks hundreds of thousands of protestors took to the streets only to be severely repressed by the military, resulting in 52 confirmed deaths and many disappearances.

On May 20 that year, King Bhumbol Adulyadej summoned both Kraprayoon and former Bangkok Gov. Chamlong Srimuang – who had led the demonstrators – and asked them to solve the conflict peacefully.

More military coups have taken place in Thailand since 1945 than in any other country.

From that year until now the country has seen 10 successful military coups, as well as around five failed coup attempts.