By KAS CHANWANPEN
He insisted that Cabinet members also could do the same, as long as it was not illegal, shrugging off criticism that his power could affect the election’s legitimacy.
The remark came in response to news that some Cabinet members might join the pro-junta Palang Pracharat Party. The PM said that they were free to do that to help the party and it would not do any harm.
Previous governments had also done similar things, Prayut pointed out, responding to media queries about the appropriateness of such a move as the current Cabinet members had been installed by a coup.
Despite the undemocratic access to power, Prayut said his administration was widely accepted by the international community and questioned whether elected governments had done anything that could match that.
Prayut and some Cabinet members – namely his deputy Somkid Jatusripitak, Commerce Minister Sonthirat Sonthijirawong, Industry Minister Utama Sawanayon, and a minister attached to the PM’s office – are expected to join Palang Pracharat Party in a bid to return to politics after the election currently scheduled for February 2019.
Although the junta head had initially been coy about entering post-junta politics, he had hinted at an interest in doing so.
But the move stirred up some controversy. After the Cabinet meeting yesterday, Prayut said what he meant by saying he was interested in joining politics was he wanted to see reform and the 20-year national strategy being implemented.
“This doesn’t mean I want to retain power. It’s just that [the reform and the strategy] are addressed in the law. We have to respect it,” the PM said.
Asked whether he was concerned that there could be conflict with politicians, Prayut said he was not afraid.
“I’ve been fighting and been with them for four years already,” he said.
Prayut said he would have to study the new laws to see if it was possible for him to join politics before he makes a decision.
So far, he has not been approached by any party, and he remains undecided if he will accept an invitation, he added.
However, questions have been raised over the appropriateness of such a move. Critics as well as politicians have expressed similar concerns that the election might not be free and fair if members of the ruling junta become players. They might have the upper hand over other competitors who are restricted by several extraordinary rules and laws.
Meanwhile Rangsiman Rome, a key leader of the pro-democracy force demanding an election, said Prayut’s current move only called into question his neutrality.
“The NCPO has promoted itself as a moderator and regulator. But now that its leader is showing interest in politics, we have to question if it’s losing the claimed neutrality. Will it be fair to other political parties?” Rangsiman said.
Fairness is most important, the activist stressed.
If Prayut wants to join politics, Rangsiman said the junta head needs to make sure no individuals or groups have privileges over others. Also, Prayut has to be fair to voters who are now only seeing political campaigns mostly from the pro-junta groups, not others, he added.
His deputy Wissanu Krea-ngam said yesterday that Prayut is not required by law to step down as leader of the ruling junta regardless of criticism.
“It’s the prime minister’s personal matter. It’s not strange for someone to be interested in politics. He does not need to resign as prime minister.
“And the law does not require General Prayut to resign as the NCPO leader if he wants to enter politics,” Wissanu said at Government House. The deputy PM declined to answer a question whether he would join a future administration headed by Prayut if approached.