Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda has thrown his support behind Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, saying he can remain in power beyond his one-year roadmap time frame.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha offers flowers to Privy Council President Prem Tinsulanonda. Gen Prayut led cabinet members and leaders of the armed forces in wishing Gen Prem a Happy New Year at his Si Sao Thewes residence Monday. (Photo by Apichart Jinakul)
"The prime minister does not have to retire as he is not a civil servant," Gen Prem said.
He was responding to a reporter who asked about the government and the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) having only a one-year timetable to do all that is required under their roadmap.
Gen Prem is the latest public figure to say that the Prayut government may have to stay in office beyond the NCPO's initial time frame.
The government has said the general election could be held in early 2016 instead of the end of 2015 which it stated earlier.
Gen Prem spoke after Gen Prayut, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, cabinet members and armed forces chiefs yesterday paid a visit to his Si Sao Thewes residence to wish him a Happy New Year.
Addressing the elder statesman, Gen Prayut said he and his group have always known that Gen Prem, a former prime minister, had contributed a lot to the country with his leadership, abilities and experience.
The premier said Gen Prem's good work would be an example for his group to follow in running the country with integrity, honesty, love and unity to move Thailand forward sustainably.
Gen Prem replied he was glad to see the gathering of well-wishers, which showed love and unity, adding that he favoured calling Gen Prayut "Prime Minister Uncle Too", saying this name would be more amiable. "Too" is Gen Prayut's nickname.
"If we still remember May 22 [the coup], you and the people in the country can be proud that Prime Minister Uncle Too grabbed power from the government, an act which returned peace and order to the country," Gen Prem said.
"It showed on that day that soldiers and the armed forces, along with Gen Prawit Wongsuwon and Gen Tanasak Patimapragorn, came out when it was necessary to take care of the country."
The privy council president regarded the takeover as "doing a favour for the country and expressing loyalty".
"Only a single person out of more than 60 million Thai people said the Thai army is not capable of anything except shooting," Gen Prem said without elaborating.
"Prime Minister Uncle Too has proven that, when the time comes for us to act, we can do things and also do good, and this is what it means to be a soldier."
Gen Prem told his well-wishers it is an important moment to show that when Thailand faces trouble and disunity, it is their duty for them to help take care of the country in line with their sacred vows.
"I personally told Prime Minister Uncle Too that after we came out [from the barracks], we might not be able to step back, but have to move ahead with grace and bravery," Gen Prem said.
He also called on the armed forces to support the prime minister and his cabinet to work for the good of the country.
After the blessing, Gen Prayut gave flowers to Gen Prem, who also distributed Phra Luang Phor Thuad amulets to his well-wishers.
After the event, Gen Prayut went to the Centara Grand Hotel, Central World, where he presided over the opening ceremony of the Thailand Halal Assembly conference and exhibition.
In a speech, he told the gathering that the government will return happiness to all Thais — Buddhists, Muslims and people of other religions.