Prayut mulls move to UTN
Prayut-Prawit meeting points to party switch
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said he is considering a move to join the newly-established United Thai Nation Party (UTN) or Ruam Thai Sang Chart.
He opened up about the matter for the first time on Wednesday as the rumour mill went into overdrive about his move to the party.
Asked by reporters whether he had applied for party membership, Gen Prayut said: "I am still considering it.''
He refused to comment when pressed for an answer on his political future. He only said: "It will become clear next year.''
UTN leader Pirapan Salirathavibhaga, a former Democrat MP, who serves as an adviser to the prime minister, on Wednesday denied Gen Prayut applied for party membership on Monday as some reports claimed.
Mr Pirapan previously said the UTN would welcome Gen Prayut if he decided to leave the ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP).
The UTN was founded in March last year by Seksakol Atthawong, a former aide to the prime minister, to back Gen Prayut's return as PM after the next election, if he so wishes.
The likelihood of Gen Prayut moving to the UTN gained momentum after he reportedly met Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, the PPRP's leader, at the office of the Foundation for the Conservation of Forests in Five Adjoining Provinces in the compound of the 1st Infantry Regiment in Bangkok last Sunday.
Gen Prayut is believed to have informed Gen Prawit of his plan to switch parties ahead of the coming general election.
Sayant Yutitham, a PPRP MP for Nakhon Si Thammarat, said several party MPs were considering whether to stay put or defect to the UTN.
He said that while he has been well looked after by Gen Prawit, it was Gen Prayut's popularity that helped him win the House seat.
"If Gen Prayut decides to join the UTN, I will also follow in his footsteps and join the party,'' Mr Sayant said.
He added that at least three MPs for Songkhla were willing to defect to the UTN to support Gen Prayut.
"I informed Gen Prawit of my intention and he did not have any objection. We're only waiting for Gen Prayut to make his political stance clear,'' Mr Sayant said, adding he believed he could retain his House seat in the next election as Gen Prayut's popularity ratings in the South are still high.
Deputy Prime Minister and Bhumjaithai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul denied talk that he struck a deal with Gen Prayut to take turns serving as prime minister for two years each.
"There is no such deal,'' Mr Anutin said.
If Gen Prayut is re-elected by parliament as prime minister after the next election expected in the first half of next year, Gen Prayut could only serve as PM for another two years as his premiership will end in 2025.