NAKHON RATCHASIMA: Hundreds shouted and waved flags emblazoned with the face of junta chief Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha Sunday at the first election rally held in the Northeast by the pro-regime Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP).
The PPRP, backing Prime Minister Prayut to return as civilian premier after the election, campaigned across the Isan region during the weekend in a bid to win over voters believed to harbour deep antipathy to the military.
In Nakhon Ratchasima Sunday evening, party secretary-general Sonthirat Sonjirawong said "a vote for Prayut" would help end Thailand's decade-long political gridlock.
"Today, the Korat people will have to decide if you want to see Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha keep the country in peace and move it forward," he yelled at the crowd.
Hundreds of supporters chanted "Uncle Tu!, Uncle Tu!" -- the nickname of Gen Prayut, who was born in the province. The crowd were eager to hug and take selfies with local candidates.
But thousands of plastic chairs stood empty and the crowd dispersed quickly after the leaders left the stage.
With the second largest number of constituencies after Bangkok, Korat holds to key to victory "so we have to win here", said party spokesman Kobsak Pootrakool.
Aiding in the contest are a number of politicians poached from Pheu Thai, Thailand's most popular party, which swept most of Isan in all 21st century polls.
"It will help very much... You have to have the person who knows the locals," Mr Kobsak said.
The mission is essentially to defeat Pheu Thai and its strong alignment with billionaire fugitive Thaksin. His removal from office by the military in 2006 caused much of the ill feeling still seen towards pro-regime forces.
Almost five years of junta rule has re-seeded resentment. The PPRP has scrambled to project a friendlier image of the gruff general as the clock ticks to the poll.
An attempt by the party to have Gen Prayut speak at Sunday's meeting failed when the prime minister decided against campaigning in any form, including participating in TV debates with other candidates for prime minister.