Thai junta-aligned Phalang Pracharat party reaches out in opposition heartland

A Phalang Pracharat party supporter displays an electoral placard of Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha in Bangkok. PHOTO: AFP

NAKHON RATCHASIMA, Thailand (AFP) - Hundreds shouted and waved flags emblazoned with the face of Thailand's junta chief at a Sunday (March 10) election rally held in territory with strong ties to the powerful opposition Shinawatra clan.

The army-aligned Phalang Pracharat party - which will push for General Prayut Chan-o-cha to return as a civilian premier after the March 24 poll - campaigned across the north- eastern "Isan" region this weekend in a bid to win over voters with deep antipathy to the military.

In Nakhon Ratchasima, party secretary-general Sonthirat Sonjirawong said a vote for Prayut would help end Thailand's decade-long political gridlock.

"Today, the Korat people will have to decide if you want to see General Prayut Chan-o-cha keep the country in peace and move it forward," he yelled at the crowd, using a local nickname for the city.

Hundreds of supporters chanted "Uncle Tu!" - a nickname for Prayut, who was born in the province - and were eager to hug and take selfies with their local candidates.

But thousands of plastic chairs stood empty and the crowd dispersed quickly after the leaders left the stage.

With the second largest number of constituencies after Bangkok, Korat holds to key to victory "so we have to win here", said party spokesman Kobsak Pootrakool.

Aiding in the contest are a number of politicians poached from Pheu Thai, Thailand's most popular party, which swept most of Isan in the previous polls.

"It will help very much... You have to have the person who knows the locals," Kobsak told AFP.

Pheu Thai is aligned with former billionaire premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was booted from office by the military 2006 and lives in self-exile.

This month's elections - the first in eight years - will prove a test for Prayut, who masterminded a coup in 2014 ousting then-premier Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin's younger sister.

Almost five years of junta rule has seeded resentment in Thailand, and his party has scrambled to project a friendlier image of the gruff general as the clock ticks to the poll.

The election's result will be governed by a new military-scripted constitution.

Results are difficult to predict, as dominant parties will likely have to broker alliances with smaller players to stitch together a majority.

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