BANGKOK • Pro-establishment lawmakers in Thailand have said they plan to ensure junta chief Prayut Chan-o-cha stays on as Prime Minister by fielding a proxy political party backed by the military in a general election planned for next year.
Thais voted overwhelmingly in an August referendum to accept a junta-backed Constitution, paving the way for an election - but one that will require future governments to rule on the military's terms.
Mr Paiboon Nititawan, a former senator appointed by the military to its reform council and its Constitution drafting committee, said he would set up a party to nominate Mr Prayut as the next prime minister.
"We have retired generals and soldiers that are interested in joining our party," Mr Paiboon told Reuters. "We need a good person to ensure the reforms put in place by the junta get carried out. For me, that person is General Prayut."
Thailand has seen 19 coups or attempted coups since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932 and the role of the military in politics is always closely watched.
WHY PRAYUT IS THE CHOICE
We have retired generals and soldiers that are interested in joining our party. We need a good person to ensure the reforms put in place by the junta get carried out. For me, that person is General Prayut.
MR PAIBOON NITITAWAN, a former senator appointed by the military to its reform council and its Constitution drafting committee.
Politicians from main political parties said the military had been lobbying people to join Mr Paiboon's party.
The junta says it does not support the formation of a political party and is not interested in staying in power beyond 2017. Mr Prayut wants all options to be exhausted before he would accept any nomination to become premier again.
Mr Suranand Vejjajiva, a former minister in the Yingluck Shinawatra government that was overthrown in the 2014 military coup, said a party that supports Mr Prayut as premier could gain enough seats to ensure military rule.
"There is something within the Thai political culture that longs for a figure of authority who comes in and solves our problems," he said.
Mr Kasit Piromya, a former foreign minister and member of the pro-establishment Democrat Party, said the military was reaching out to more conservative members of his party to form a coalition with Mr Paiboon's party.
The August referendum on the new Constitution has been seen as the biggest test yet of public opinion on the rule of Mr Prayut, who seized power in the 2014 coup. Mr Prayut had said the coup was aimed at ending years of political turmoil in the Asean nation.
YEARNING FOR A PROBLEM-SOLVER
There is something within the Thai political culture that longs for a figure of authority who comes in and solves our problems.
MR SURANAND VEJJAJIVA, a former minister in the Yingluck Shinawatra government.
Under the new Constitution, a 250-member upper house Senate will be appointed by the military and six seats will be reserved for the heads of the military and the police.
The armed forces will need at least 125 lawmakers from the elected lower house to join the appointed senators in voting for a non-elected prime minister.
The Constitution will allow the military to retain extensive powers during a transition period following the general election and following an eventual royal succession that has prompted worries about instability.