By THE NATION
THE ELECTION Commission (EC) announced yesterday that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha can still hold mobile Cabinet meetings despite political parties and members of the public saying it gives him an unfair advantage in the election.
He has already been added to a pro-junta party’s list of PM candidates.
EC deputy secretary-general Nat Laosisavakul said yesterday that General Prayut, in his capacity as premier, can continue performing his public administration duties, including holding mobile Cabinet meetings in different provinces.
Given the blurred line between working on a field trip and conducting an electoral campaign, Nat admitted that there was a matter of ethical appropriateness to be considered.
He said Prayut’s responsibility as prime minister was one thing and ethics was another. However, the agency would have to review whether this was against the law, he added.
The agency remains unsure about what decision it should make in relation to Prayut’s weekly television address.
It is still not clear if Prayut can continue with the programme or if it will have to be stopped once he becomes a PM candidate, Nat said.
Nat met with Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam yesterday to discuss the roles and responsibilities of state servants during the upcoming election. It was speculated that the two might also discuss what Prayut could or could not do when he becomes an official electoral candidate.
The development came after the pro-junta Phalang Pracharat announced on Wednesday that they would invite the coup leader to run as its PM candidate.
Party leader Uttama Savanayana will hand the formal invitation to Prayut in person today.
Though Prayut has yet to give a clear answer, he did say yesterday that he has until February 8 to make a decision. He thanked the party for its invitation.
Prayut has faced criticism that these moves have been planned from the very day he staged the coup. However, he has denied having such ambitions.
“I have seen many problems in the past five years. So, I think I need to carry on if the people want me to carry on,” he said. “This is up to the people, not me.”
Prayut has also steadfastly refused to give up power in the lead-up to the election, though his potential status as a prime ministerial candidate has stirred up controversy.
Critics say the election may not be free and fair if Prayut continues to hold on to his position, as he will have the advantage of using state resources to woo voters, along with a personal communication channel through his weekly TV show.
In addition to Prayut, Phalang Pracharat also resolved on Wednesday that its leader Uttama and Deputy PM Somkid Jatusripitak would be on their PM list.
Somkid is currently in Japan for meetings with investors. He said yesterday that he had not been contacted by the party but would consider their nomination once he returned to Thailand.
He added that he hoped Prayut would accept the invitation to top the ticket. Given that Thailand is in the middle of a significant transition, Prayut will be a perfect PM candidate, he said.
In a related development, the regime’s arch-rival, Pheu Thai Party, yesterday was pressing to have Phalang Pracharat declared an illegitimate party.
Pheu Thai lawyer Kriangkrai Leekitwatana said he would again ask the EC today about his complaint that Phalang Pracharat’s status might be questionable, since it was registered last November by Uttama before he had legally become a party member.