Pro-military network moves to keep Prayut as PM

Pro-military network moves to keep Prayut as PM

Pro-military groups have begun work to form a coalition that will support Prayut Chan-o-cha as prime minister after the next election.

Paiboon Nititawan, a former senator appointed by the military to its reform council and its constitution drafting committee, said shortly after the Aug 7 referendum he would set up a party focusing on political and religious reforms and on increasing people's power.

He also said "retired military men" were welcomed to join his party, a move that stoked speculation his would be a nominee party for the junta.

But it was not until Tuesday that he confirmed with Reuters his People's Reform party would support Gen Prayut as prime minister.

"We have retired generals and soldiers that are interested in joining our party," Mr Paiboon said. "We need a good person to ensure the reforms put in place by the junta get carried out. For me, that person is Gen Prayut."

Kasit Piromya, a former foreign minister and member of the pro-establishment Democrat Party, also told Reuters on the same day the military was reaching out to more conservative members of his party to form a coalition with Mr Paiboon's party.

Under the draft constitution, an unelected prime minister can come from two channels. He may allow his name to be put on a PM-candidate list of a political party or the House and the Senate could vote to choose him with a majority vote of 376 or more of the 750 members of both houses.

Observers have said the former channel might not be a preferred choice for the junta as it could compromise its self-proclaimed image of political neutrality. On the other hand, having Gen Prayut as a PM candidate could bolster a party's chance of winning if recent poll results and the Aug 7 referendum are any guide.

Based on past election results, MPs stand a chance to have one of their own as prime minister only when the two large parties -- Democrat and Pheu Thai -- join hands, a scenario viewed by many as unlikely considering the long history of their differences.

If Mr Paiboon's party and the Democrats join hands, they only need to rope in a few mid-sized and small parties to form a coalition, sidelining Pheu Thai as the opposition.

Under the new constitution, a 250-member upper house Senate will be appointed by the military and six seats will be reserved for the heads of the armed forces and police.

The military will need at least 126 lawmakers from the elected lower house to join the appointed senators in voting for a non-elected prime minister.

For his part, Gen Prayut has remained non-committal when asked whether he would continue to be the prime minister after the election.

"It's too soon to discuss it now. It's a matter of the future," he said at the Post Forum in Bangkok on Wednesday.

Suranand Vejjajiva, a former minister in the Yingluck Shinawatra government that was overthrown in May 2014, told Reuters on Wednesday a party that supports Gen Prayut as premier could gain enough seats to ensure military rule.

"There is something within the Thai political culture that longs for a figure of authority who comes in and solves our problems," he said.

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