Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha was officially nominated for re-election as his party’s first candidate for the country’s next leader in polls set for May 14.
Prayut, 69, is running with the new United Thai Nation Party, and will likely face Pheu Thai party’s Paetongtarn Shinawatra, daughter and niece of two former premiers from the billionaire family.
The incumbent, in power since 2014 when the military toppled a civilian government, was elected as a civilian leader in 2019.
The military veteran has lagged rivals in opinion polls, but hopes to win over supporters with promises of looking after the well-being of the people and the country’s stability, and protecting the monarchy.
“We volunteer to make everyone as happy as possible,” Prayut said at a party event to introduce its candidates for all 400 constituencies.
He said his next government would continue the work of his current administration with a steady hand and the slogan: “Have done, doing and will continue”.
“The most important thing is to defend the country and protect the nation’s main institution. Please trust me as you’ve always done.
“We will create a new political climate,” Prayut said in a speech before 1,000 supporters at a convention centre on the outskirts of Bangkok, less than a week after he dissolved Parliament to set a May 14 election date.
“We will have policies that address issues of the people and the country, and most importantly – and I only need to say one word, I don’t need to expand or anything – we will move beyond conflict,” he said.
Prayut was the banner attraction at a meeting of the recently formed United Thai Nation party.
“We cannot have any more conflict,” he said.
“In the decades that have passed, there have been problems. Don’t forget. Don’t have short-term memory. We cannot let it happen again.”
Party leader Pirapan Salirathavibhaga was nominated as the party’s No. 2 candidate for prime minister.
Thailand’s election is set to be a showdown between elite establishment and pro-democracy forces that have dominated politics in the South-East Asian country for decades.
Prayut’s seizure of power in 2014 brought in five years of military enforced stability.
But after he was selected prime minister following the 2019 election, there were new outbursts of violence as his government used heavy-handed measures to try to curb student-led pro-democracy demonstrations.
Prayut’s path back to the top looks challenging. Opinion polls put him far behind Paetongtarn, Thaksin’s daughter, as well as a candidate from a progressive party.
Populist parties linked to Thaksin have won the most seats in every election since 2001.
Prayut also faces a challenge from Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, who is known as a formidable political operator.
The former army comrades recently drifted apart, with Prayut joining the new United Thai Nation party and Prawit staying with Palang Pracharath, the largest party in the government coalition.
The prime minister is not directly chosen by the popular vote but is selected by a joint session of both houses of Parliament.
The 250-strong upper house, or Senate, is likely to vote as a bloc in favour of a conservative candidate.
In 2019, the Senate unanimously backed Prayut. — Agencies