BANGKOK - Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has decided against campaigning directly for the country's March 24 election for fear of violating election laws.
A former army chief who seized power in a 2014 coup, Mr Prayut wants to return after the polls as a civilian prime minister and has been nominated by Phalang Pracharat Party as its sole candidate for premier.
He had been due to speak from the party's stage in his home province of Nakhon Ratchasima this weekend. But after chairing a meeting at Government House on Wednesday (March 6) morning, a smiling Mr Prayut told reporters he will continue coming to work "as usual" and not help campaign for the party in the lead-up to March 24, The Nation reported.
Plans for his campaign had been dropped over fears that his appearance and statements could potentially violate election laws, as Mr Prayut remains as Prime Minister and is also the chief junta leader, the newspaper added.
Citing a source close to Mr Prayut, the report said the junta leader will not travel to Nakhon Ratchasima to join the campaign in any way this weekend. He is also not scheduled to participate in the Bangkok campaign, as he wished to fully recover from a recent cataract operation.
A second party source confirmed that party plans to have Mr Prayut take the stage in its nationwide election campaign had been called off. After discussion and careful consideration of the pros and cons, the party concluded that it was not worth the risk, said the source.
The party would, however, use Mr Prayut in its campaign in Bangkok, but in an informal way so as to avoid violating any laws.
The change of plans came as rival parties grapple with their own run-ins with the law.
The Thai Raksa Chart party, one of several parties loyal to military-ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, is in imminent risk of being banned for nominating Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Barnavadi for prime minister in the March 24 election.
Thailand's Constitutional Court will give its ruling on the party's fate on Thursday (March 7).
The banning of Thai Raksa Chart would be a set-back for opposition chances in the election.
Separately, prosecutors said they would decide after the election whether to prosecute a criminal case against a leader of another political party who criticised the military junta in a speech on Facebook last year.
Mr Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, a 40-year-old auto parts billionaire and political novice, could be jailed for up to five years under the Computer Crime Act for "uploading false information" in a speech posted on Facebook in June.
His Future Forward Party has denied the charges against him and two other party members, and Mr Thanathorn said the case against him is politically motivated.
The legal moves against opponents of the junta have raised questions about the fairness of Thailand's electoral process.