Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has warned against populist policies being rolled out by political parties to attract voters ahead of the upcoming general election, saying their election pledges could inflict financial burdens on the national budget.
Speaking after Tuesday's cabinet meeting, Gen Prayut said that he was concerned about political parties promising to increase welfare benefits to voters.
"Be careful, as this will cause financial burdens on the national budget. One party has promised more than 800 billion baht [in welfare benefits]. I don't know how the money can be found," he said. "If the government's regular expenses have to be diverted to fund the promised increases in welfare benefits, how will the country carry on?"
Gen Prayut was again asked about the perceived political rivalry between himself and Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the ruling Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, during their pre-election campaigning. Gen Prayut, who is now a member of the United Thai Nation Party, insisted that they remain on speaking terms.
Commenting on the inclusion of non-Thai nationals in its calculation of the number of people represented per MP, Gen Prayut said he had received confirmation from the Interior Ministry that non-Thai nationals will not be allowed to vote.
"Most importantly, all eligible voters must go to the polls and vote," the prime minister said.
According to a source, Interior Minister Anupong Paojinda told the cabinet meeting that foreign workers and Thai nationals aged below 18 years were included in the calculation of the number of people represented per MP in order to draw electoral maps, but they have no right to vote.
Previously, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam suggested that the Election Commission (EC) ask the Constitutional Court for a ruling after its calculation of the number of people represented per MP was found to include non-Thai nationals.
According to Mr Wissanu, the EC claimed non-Thai nationals are included because the charter stipulates population data must come from the Interior Ministry, which covers both Thais and foreign nationals.
Former EC member Somchai Srisutthiyakorn also warned that the number of MPs in some provinces could be affected if there were a large number of non-Thais, and insisted the EC must clear this up before the electoral map is finalised.
In related news, Industry Minister Suriya Jungrungreangkit has confirmed he and Justice Minister Somsak Thepsutin, both key members of the Sam Mitr faction, will remain with the PPRP.
Responding to rumours he and Mr Somsak would defect to the Pheu Thai Party, Mr Suriya on Tuesday said that he had informed Gen Prawit, the PPRP leader, that he would stay put.
He said Mr Somsak would also remain with the party.
Both he and Mr Somsak would definitely run for the House of Representatives under the PPRP banner in the coming election, Mr Suriya said.
After the cabinet meeting, when Gen Prawit was asked to comment on the rumours, particularly about Mr Somsak, his response was brief. "Go ask him," he said.
Another member of the Sam Mitr faction, Anucha Nakasai, the PM's Office minister, was earlier reported to have said he would join the United Thai Nation Party along with Prime Minister Prayut.
Meanwhile, Traisulee Taisaranakul, a deputy government spokeswoman, said that the cabinet on Tuesday approved the draft of a royal decree to close parliament's current session on March 1.