Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has hinted once again he may be ready to return as premier after the Feb 24 poll, a day after the ban on political activities was lifted.
During his visit with cabinet ministers to the northeastern province of Bung Kan on Wednesday, Gen Prayut admitted he is now a full-time politician.
"I am here today. If I tell you that I am not a full-time politician, that's not true because I have been running the country.
"Being a politician, I am glad to see a lot of people turn up to welcome and call me 'Loong [Uncle] Tu'. You know I suffer. But I am willing to suffer.... When I go back home, I will sleep and contemplate why the people hope to rely on us. Because they have hope so we have to fulfil their hopes. But we must not cheat," Gen Prayut said.
On Jan 3, Gen Prayut declared for the first time since he seized power in 2014 that he is a politician, though he also reminded people he is "a politician who used to be a soldier".
Also, Gen Prayut previously said he would give a clear answer about whether he would enter the political fray after the political ban had been lifted.
More than 5,000 people turned up to welcome him.
"I am delighted to visit Bung Kan. I am happy here. When I see people smile, I am happy," the prime minister said.
Gen Prayut previously hinted the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) may be his preferred choice if he decides to become a prime ministerial candidate on a party ticket.
He said he would naturally support any party with policies in line with those of the current regime.
Industry Minister Uttama Savanayana concurrently serves as the PPRP's leader and Science and Technology Minister Suvit Maesincee its deputy leader.
Previously, Pheu Thai Party secretary-general Phumtham Wechayachai also said Gen Prayut should take the high road if he wants to return as premier.
Mr Phumtham said the issue has nothing to do with legal requirements. If Gen Prayut wants respect and recognition from the public and the international community, he must earn it, he added.
The Pheu Thai heavyweight was answering a question on whether it would be appropriate for Gen Prayut to stay in power, after the pro-regime PPRP said it hoped nominate him as its candidate.
Gen Prayut also hit out at anti-government elements who began to take to the streets to protest against the government after the ban on political activities, including political gatherings of five people and more, was lifted.
"Demonstrations against the government have already started in Bangkok," Gen Prayut said.
The premier also said Thailand will host major meetings of Asean after taking up the chairmanship of the regional grouping on Jan 1.
He stressed the need to avoid a repeat of the fiasco in April of 2009 when Thailand held its rotational turn at Asean's helm and the Asean summit in the resort city of Pattaya in Chon Buri was disrupted by red-shirt protesters.
Payao Akahart, mother of Kamolkate, a volunteer nurse who was killed during the 2010 political violence, and four other people, on Tuesday gathered at the Democracy Monument on Ratchadamnoen Klang Avenue to call for justice for those killed during the 2010 crackdown.
More than 100 policemen were deployed.
After the gathering, the four people were taken to Chana Songkhram police station.
Police were considering charging them with failing to inform authorities of their gathering 24 hours in advance as required by law.
Violators are liable to a fine of no more than 10,000 baht.
Even though the NCPO has lifted the prohibition on political activities, including political gatherings, laws already in place stipulate that police will need to be informed in advance of any party plans.
The lifting of the political ban raises the prospect of a return to street rallies that have defined much of the turbulent last decade of Thai politics before the 2014 coup.
Pol Maj Gen Piyapan Pingmuang, police deputy spokesman, said national police chief Chakthip Chaijinda had instructed his deputy Pol Gen Srivara Ransibrahmanakul to keep a close watch on the activities of all political groups following the lifting of the political ban.
Pheu Thai key figure Chaturon Chaisang said that it was not surprising that the lifting of the ban has unleashed street protests by people who want to vent their frustration as their freedom of expression has been suppressed by the regime.
There was no need for the government to worry about street protests because even though the political ban has been lifted, the law regulating public assembly is still in place, Mr Chaturon said.
Anudit Nakornthap, a former Pheu Thai Party MP for Bangkok, said that he did not think there would be any reason for anyone to stage demonstrations or cause public disturbances because the political ban has now been revoked and the Feb 24 general election date has been officially confirmed already.