Politician Prayut the highlight of last-gasp party rallies
published : 22 Mar 2019 at 18:53
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha took the stage at the final rally of the pro-regime Palang Pracharath Party in Bangkok on Friday night, saying he was “ready to die for the country” and warning supporters to beware of false promises.
The general who led the coup against an elected government nearly five years ago was the centre of attention as major parties descended on the capital for their final rallies before Sunday’s general election, the first in nearly eight years.
Gen Prayut was greeted by cheers as he mounted the stage at the 6,300-capacity Thephasadin Stadium near the National Stadium in the capital after 7pm. It was his first such appearance since he was nominated as the PPRP prime ministerial candidate.
Gen Prayut, who turned 65 on Thursday, has until now avoided appearing at Palang Pracharath events, out of fear he could be accused of abusing his office in violation of electoral laws. As prime minister and chief of the National Council for Peace and Order with absolute power, he is the most vulnerable of all PM candidates to conflict of interest accusations.
“I promise to give better future to all 77 provinces,” he told the crowd. “Everyone will have a better life. … I thank all Thai people for cooperating with me for the last five years. I will do my best to continue with my work."
The policies his government had put in place were good, he said, “but their implementation needs a leader. … The national future must be shaped in an organised manner. It cannot be improvised.”
The prime minister pledged to work for people of all ages and asked for their help to realise his wish for peace.
“I am ready to die for the country that let me be born, eat, sleep and work. I will protect the country for our next generation,” he said.
“Maintaining peace and order is the most important thing for Thailand now."
Without getting specific, he also advised voters to closely study others’ political promises.
“Do not let anyone tell you to forget this, remember that or do anything. They give you no future. Do not go for waste,” he said.
Video by Wassana Nanuam
A Pheu Thai supporter hugs Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan, the party's prime ministerial candidate, at a rally at the Thai-Japan Youth Centre in Bangkok on Friday. (Photo by Chanat Katanyu)
Pheu Thai, the largest party by MP numbers in the last successful election in 2011, also held its final rally at the Keelaves 2 Building at the Thai-Japan Youth Centre at Din Dang. It has a capacity of 1,300 people, while the larger Keelaves 1 Building next door (capacity 3,800), was where Future Forward was whipping up its supporters.
The Democrat Party, meanwhile, was holding its last rally at Lan Khon Muang near City Hall. Pheu Chart, a Pheu Thai affiliate whose key figures include red-shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan, was marshalling its supporters at Imperial World Lat Phrao.
Parit “Itim” Wacharasindhu, a young Democrat MP candidate, greets fans in front of City Hall on Friday. (Photo by Chanat Katanyu)
Sunday’s general election has been cast as a high-stakes contest between democracy and military rule, but many critics believe it has been rigged in favour of the regime. They point to the role of the 250-member Senate, whose members will be appointed by the National Council for Peace and Order, in voting to select the next prime minister. The senator selections, which remain a closely guarded secret, are expected to be announced next week.
The junta has said the new rules will bring stability after more than a decade of fractious, at times violent, politics.
Pheu Thai is leading the charge for a “democratic front” of parties against Palang Pracharath.
Some of the more outspoken backers of the military have warned the country could be plunged back into political unrest if Pheu Thai returned to power.
Asked on Friday if another coup was possible after the poll, deputy junta leader Prawit Wongsuwon replied, "No, no, no."
The Democrat Party hopes to hold the key to power after an inconclusive election, returning leader Abhisit Vejjajiva to the prime minister’s office he held unelected from 2008 to 2011. Mr Abhisit has said that he will not support Gen Prayut as prime minister, but has waffled on whether that is official party policy.
Polls indicate Pheu Thai will again be the top vote-winner, and it hopes with its allies to make up the largest bloc in the 500-seat House of Representatives.
But that may not matter if Palang Pracharath can cobble together a coalition of smaller parties. Those could include Chartthaipattana (controlled by the Silpa-archa family) and Chart Pattana (Liptapanlop family), whose main ideological position is to join whichever party wins the election. Bhumjaithai could be a wildcard, as leader Anutin Charnvirakul has indicated that he would only support a premier who “comes from the will of MPs”.
The magic number of seats that a party or alliance needs to form a government is 376, or one more than half of the total number in the two houses — 500 in the House of Representatives and 250 in the Senate.
While there is no guarantee that all 250 Senators will vote for Gen Prayut, the vast majority are expected to back him. Thus, a pro-military coalition could form a government with as few as 126 seats in the House of Representatives.
In light of conditions that appear to place it at a disadvantage, Pheu Thai has urged voters to be strategic.
“The rules in this election are designed to put the people at a disadvantage. If you don’t want to give in to despair, you need to vote strategically,” it said in a Facebook post early on Friday. “You need to vote for Pheu Thai for a landslide win!”
Parties and candidates are allowed to campaign until 6pm on Saturday. The next day, 93,200 polling stations will be open from 8am to 5pm across the country.
The Election Commission has said that the first unofficial results will be available by 8pm, three hours after polling stations close on Sunday.
Supporters wave placards showing Future Forward leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit at the Thai-Japan Youth Centre in Bangkok on Friday. (Photo by Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)