People Reform announces full backing of Prayut
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People Reform announces full backing of Prayut

"Gen Prayut has all the qualifications, competence and integrity. Up until now, there has been no corruption scandals involving him or his family members so he's our best choice," says Paiboon Nititawan, leader of the People Reform Party. (Bangkok Post file photo)

People Reform, a new party set up by Paiboon Nititawan, has declared its full support for Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha as an outsider prime minister at its first meeting.

The party, the second allowed by the junta to meet after New Alternative party first met two weeks ago, is the first to openly declare full support for Gen Prayut and announced it would vote in line with appointed senators.

Members of People Reform gathered at a hotel in Bang Na on Saturday after the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) allowed it to hold the meeting to decide on the party's name abbreviation, logo, manifesto, policies and regulations. They also elected Mr Paiboon as party leader.

On policies, Mr Paiboon said he would push for the setup of a reform council in each province to provide checks and balances and to empower people.

"Backing Gen Prayut is our secondary policy, which is to support a nonpartisan prime minister. In my view, Gen Prayut has all the qualifications, competence and integrity. Up until now, there has been no corruption scandals involving him or his family members so he's our best choice," he said.

Asked what the party would do if Gen Prayut joined another party, Mr Paiboon said it would be a long while before that decision had to be made and his party was not committed to backing only Gen Prayut.

"Our PM candidate can be anyone with such qualifications. We wouldn't propose one of our members as prime minister anyway and would not support a PM candidate of another party," he said.

In the event that other parties draw enough votes to support someone else as the PM, People Reform would vote along the line of senators, he said.

"I believe we and other parties can garner more than 125 votes. When combined with the votes from 250 senators, we can throw out any party-list PM candidate proposed by another party," he said.

He was referring to the mathematics of selecting the prime minister. A party can propose up to three PM candidates, who can be insiders or outsiders, before the election but only the parties winning at least 25 MP seats can get their candidates' names into the ring. The House has 500 MPs -- 350 from constituencies and 150 from party lists -- and the Senate has 250 seats, all appointed by the NCPO. The prime minister must win the majority vote of the two houses combined, or at least 376 votes.

An outsider PM can be proposed when there is a stalemate and both houses cannot choose anyone from the lists. Both houses will then meet, and vote by at least two-thirds to exempt the requirement and then proceed to propose an outsider or anyone as the PM decided by a majority vote. 

Mr Paiboon believes a non-partisan prime minister can work effectively and would not be hindered as feared by some people.

"In any case, while the number of MPs is not our main goal, we predict we would win a satisfactory number of MPs."

Discussing a call for a national-unity government championed by former veteran Pheu Thai MP Sanoh Thienthong, Mr Paiboon said it was just rhetoric because a majority vote is the decisive factor in the upcoming election.

"I believe the election will be held in February according to the roadmap. I haven't found any indicator to the contrary but if there is one, I'm sure it's for a good reason," he said.

Mr Paiboon was one of the constitution writers appointed by the NCPO to write the first draft, which was voted down by the now-defunct National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA). He was also a member of the NRSA. Before the 2014 coup, he was a two-time appointed senator for a combined six years. While senator, he founded the "Group of 40", who opposed policies and actions taken by parties linked to Thaksin Shinawatra from 2008-14.

He is now chairman of the EPA Thammasat Foundation of the university's Political Science Faculty.

Mr Paiboon was the first political actor to announce he would set up a party to back Gen Prayut as prime minister. He did so last year when it was not even clear Gen Prayut would continue to play politics.

Since the junta began allowing groups to set up new parties on March 1, 108 have registered as of Friday, according to the Election Commission.

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