PM allows ministers to back parties
Calls mount for Prayut not to exploit power
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has given the green light to his cabinet ministers to engage in political party activities, saying he does not mind if they support a political party of their choice as long as they do not break the law.
Gen Prayut made the remark Tuesday as calls mount for him to play by the rules and not exploit his role as premier to gain an unfair advantage over other politicians in the run-up to the general election which is scheduled to take place on Feb 24.
All eyes will be on three cabinet ministers this coming Saturday when the Phalang Pracharat Party, known to be affiliated with the military regime, holds a general assembly to select a party leader and its executives.
When asked to comment on a report that some of his cabinet ministers would join Phalang Pracharat, Gen Prayut said that it would be okay for them to support the party.
"As long as they do not break the law, they can do," the prime minister told reporters after chairing a cabinet meeting at Government House on Tuesday.
The prime minister said he has no intention of resigning until a successor is legally appointed after an election.
Industry Minister Uttama Savanayana, Commerce Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong, and PM's Office Minister Kobsak Pootrakool are widely rumoured to be planning to step down and make an appearance at the Phalang Pracharat Party's first gathering.
According to a source close to the three ministers, they are expected to join the party at its first official meeting after two of them gave hints about their political future.
While Mr Sontirat told the media he would very shortly announce his political future, Mr Kobsak was quoted as telling the media to "hold their breath" for a surprise on Saturday.
The trio has been linked to the newly registered party from the start, and Saturday's general assembly, which is to take place at Impact Muang Thong Thani in Nonthaburi province, is likely to set the record straight.
Mr Uttama is speculated to be named as the party leader, Mr Sontirat as the party's secretary-general and Mr Kobsak as the party's spokesman, according to the same source.
On Monday, Mr Kobsak admitted he is ready to accept the post of Phalang Pracharat Party spokesman if he is offered the role.
The Phalang Pracharat Party was registered with the Election Commission in early March of this year, and is seen as a potential vehicle to support Gen Prayut's return to power if he wishes to.
The party's name is the same as the government's Pracharat people-state partnership development programme.
Legal expert Jade Donavanik said that while the constitution does not forbid cabinet ministers from engaging in political party activities as party executives or members, the charter does say cabinet ministers must not mix their ministerial duties with party affairs because this will constitute a conflict of interest in violation of the charter.
In the event cabinet ministers are not party members but use government policies to direct party affairs, this could make a party vulnerable to dissolution, Mr Jade said.
This is because the constitution's organic law on political parties prohibits a party from consenting to influence by an outsider, an offence that may lead to party dissolution, he said.
Meanwhile, the prime minister also insisted he was unfazed by any pressure and was ready to take on a challenge if he decided to embark upon a political career path.
"I assure you I have no fears," Gen Prayut said. "I have been around for four years now. I have been adjusting all along and have made considerable improvements. You can see that I have mellowed now. I am not as abrasive as before. Whatever happens, I need to control myself especially when it comes to politics.''
Critics noted that the political landscape would be different after the polls when Gen Prayut no longer has Section 44 powers and full military support.
An elected government will come under close scrutiny from the opposition and face pressure from coalition partners, while street protests and gatherings to lodge complaints would be the norm.
Gen Prayut said on Tuesday he was interested in politics, a remark which critics took as a hint that he will seek a return to power after the general election.
- Soonruth commentary: Prayut must play fair