The United Thai Nation Party (UTN), also known as the Ruam Thai Sang Chart, is poised to do well in the next general election if Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha decides to join it, academics say.
The party stands a good chance of being part of a coalition government, as Gen Prayut remains popular among his supporters and continues to enjoy the support of senators.
Yuttaporn Issarachai, a political science lecturer at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, told the Bangkok Post that Gen Prayut would serve as a magnet for the UTN if he joins the newly established party.
His popularity rating in the South is still higher than other prime ministerial candidates while the "three brothers in arms" -- a reference to Gen Prayut, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, and Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda -- still carry a great deal of clout in the system.
"With these factors at play, Gen Prayut will pull some MPs from the ruling Palang Pracharath Party [PPRP] and other parties into the UTN.
"The UTN may not win many House seats in the next poll, but with Gen Prayut on its side, the party will have the support of the Senate and some of the existing coalition parties which will be courted to form a new coalition government after the next poll," Mr Yutthaporn said, before adding the party will only need to win 25 House seats to nominate a prime ministerial candidate.
Wanwichit Boonprong, a political scientist at Rangsit University, echoed the view, saying the UTN stands to benefit from Gen Prayut's membership, as he would attract the support of older voters and could help liaise with other political parties.
Mr Wanwichit said he believed the bond between Gen Prayut and Gen Prawit, the PPRP's leader, remains unbreakable and Gen Prayut's break-up with the PPRP could be part of an election strategy that involves setting up another party to work together with for the next poll.
Mr Wanwichit pointed out that if Gen Prayut does not leave the PPRP, it would be difficult for the party's politicians to woo voters in the election because Gen Prayut could only serve as PM for another two years as his premiership must end in 2025, as stipulated by the constitution.
"The PPRP will not be able to rely on Gen Prayut's popularity any longer. He is not worth their political investment. Therefore, it would be best if they part ways [temporarily] before reuniting," he said.
"If Gen Prayut stays put, the PPRP is unlikely to win as many House seats as in the 2019 election. But the UTN is expected to win seats through the party-list method ... if the two parties work together as allies, they may get 80-90 seats, which would give them more bargaining power."
Olarn Thinbangtiew, a political science lecturer at Burapha University, said the PPRP under Gen Prawit's leadership could attract politicians with significant support bases in the provinces who need additional resources to run in the next election.
If Gen Prayut joins the UTN, his political experience and connections will help the party steal supporters from the Democrat Party in the South, and secure the support of those who are already fans of Gen Prayut,'' Mr Olarn said.
"This is no different from the strategy known as taek bank pan [breaking a 1,000-baht note],'' he said.
On Thursday, Gen Prayut said for the first time he was considering joining the UTN, which is led by Pirapan Salirathavibhaga, a former Democrat MP who serves as an adviser to the prime minister.
Mr Pirapan had previously said the UTN would welcome Gen Prayut if he decided to leave the 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.
The chances of Gen Prayut moving to the UTN increased after he reportedly met Gen Prawit 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.