BANGKOK • Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday said he is "interested in politics", a sign that he sees a public role for himself after a general election promised next year.
May next year is the most recent deadline General Prayut's junta has set for a vote its critics hope will return Thailand to civilian rule after more than four years of military rule, although it has repeatedly pushed back the timeline.
The military aims to maintain its grip on power beyond the election, critics say, pointing to a military-backed Constitution that limits the authority of civilian politicians.
"I can say right now that I am interested in politics," Mr Prayut, 64, who has previously sidestepped questions about his political future, told reporters. "Because I love my country, like all Thai people," he said. He did not elaborate.
As army chief, Mr Prayut led a 2014 coup that ousted a civilian government to end a prolonged period of sometimes deadly unrest.
Technically he cannot stand for election under the Constitution, because he would have had to resign from his post last year to do so. Mr Prayut said yesterday he did not intend to quit as junta chief. However, Mr Prayut could return as prime minister if a political party nominated him as its front-runner.
The Constitution offers Mr Prayut another route. He could be chosen as an "outside prime minister" if 500 members, or two-thirds of the House of Representatives and the Senate, voted to kick-start the process if the winning party's candidate failed to get enough votes.
Mr Watana Muangsook, a member of the opposition Puea Thai party, welcomed Mr Prayut's participation in the next election but said he must first give up his post as junta chief.
"You may join whichever party, but you should resign as junta chief to lay down your weapons and play fair like everybody else," he said.