Ruam Phaen Din 'no mere clone'
Interview: Leader Wit won't say if he will back Prayut for PM again
Gen Wit Devahastin na Ayudhya, the new leader of the Ruam Phaen Din Party, insists the party is not an offshoot of the ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP).
He hinted the party will not support Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to return as premier after the next election.
Gen Wit, a close associate of Deputy Prime Minister and PPRP leader Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, was forced to resign as Setthakij Thai Party leader on May 24 following a rift with Capt Thamanat Prompow who has now assumed the party leadership himself.
According to sources, the conflict had thwarted plans to use Setthakij Thai as a PPRP splinter party, so Palang Chart Thai Party was chosen for Gen Wit and it was renamed Ruam Phaen Din on Aug 1 when he was made its leader.
Gen Wit has maintained close ties with Gen Prawit since they served as military officers in Sa Kaeo under the 2nd Infantry Division more than 40 years ago.
Gen Wit also serves as secretary-general of the National Olympic Committee of Thailand of which Gen Prawit is president.
Not an offshoot
In an interview with the Bangkok Post, Gen Wit said that when he was at the helm of Setthakij Thai, many of his friends and colleagues who wanted to get involved in politics also joined the party to support him.
"But when I [was forced to] quit as Setthakij Thai leader, those supporters felt they would be left in the lurch, so I had to find a new home for them. So we joined together again as a new party and they chose me as leader," Gen Wit said.
He also insisted the new party has nothing to do with Gen Prawit, though he said he sought his advice before shifting to the new party.
"Gen Prawit gave me his backing and told me that being a politician requires patience," Gen Wit said.
"I told him that I am an ex-soldier with little experience in politics and little patience.
"Gen Prawit said he did not see himself as a politician either but he had felt obliged to enter politics for the sake of the country," Gen Wit said.
He also denied talk that Ruam Phaen Din was set up merely to secure party-list seats and help the PPRP win a majority in the House and form a government after the next election.
"That is not true. The party is only for former members [of Setthakij Thai] who share the same ideologies. They had nowhere to go and a new home had to be found for them," Gen Wit said.
Hint of no support
Asked who Ruam Phaen Din will back as the next prime minister and whether it will support Gen Prayut to return as premier in the next election, Gen Wit said: "We may need someone who does a better job than him [Gen Prayut] -- someone who is best suited when the circumstances change.
"We support a decent person to steer the country forward," he said.
Asked whether the person he mentioned above will likely be Gen Prawit considering that some PPRP members are also backing him to be the next prime minister, Gen Wit would only say: "No one knows what the future holds."
Gen Wit also remained non-committal about whether he would be nominated as the party's candidate, saying the executive committee will make a decision on the matter.
Gen Wit also said he will run as a candidate for a party-list seat so as to make way for other party members to run for the seats instead.
Working with all sides
Asked whether Ruam Phaen Din would be willing to work with all parties, including the Pheu Thai Party, after the next election, Gen Wit said he wanted an end to the political divide that has blighted the country for years.
"All sides must work together in the nation's best interests. That's what I expect to see and I also have friends on every side," he said.
Asked whether he and Capt Thamanat have buried the hatchet and if there is any chance of them working together again in the future, Gen Wit was upbeat.
"I recently had dinner with Gen Prawit at the Five Provinces Bordering Forest Preservation Foundation when Capt Thamanat popped in to inform Gen Prawit that he would defect to the opposition.
"When we met, he [Capt Thamanat] apologised to me over the incident that led to me departing from Setthakij Thai. I told him I had already forgiven and forgotten," Gen Wit said.
"But things will never be the same because each of us has our own party to take care of now," Gen Wit added.
"I admit that I am a former soldier not well-versed in politics. But I will engage in politics sincerely and straightforwardly for the sake of people's best interests."