BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Thai junta chief Prayut Chan-o-cha said on Monday (Nov 26) that he has decided not to join any political party, not even the pro-junta one, ahead of a general election set for February.
Monday was the last day for election candidates to announce their political affiliation, which has to be done 90 days before the election set for Feb 24.
Prime Minister Prayut, in effect, has kept his options open - he could become the leader of the next government by either becoming a political party's non-MP prime ministerial candidate or by being nominated as a premier via votes from both houses of Parliament.
Mr Prayut, who heads the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), said on Monday that he did not need to join any party as of now, though he implied that he was waiting for an invitation.
Mr Prayut said his decision came after he spoke to the government's legal advisers, including Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam.
"I already talked to the legal team, I don't need to be a member or anything," he said, adding that he had not been approached by any particular party.
He also said his political future will be clearer once all electoral laws are in place. "I don't know if I will accept the invitation. Let's see what I decide and if their offer matches my desires," Mr Prayut said.
By law, election candidates need to be under the banner of a political party they want to represent at least 90 days before the election.
Asked how much of his heart was in the decision, Mr Prayut replied: "If I decide at all, I will certainly give it 100 per cent, not just a little here and there."
Meanwhile, things remained uncertain on Monday as the junta leader declined to say when the ban on political activities will be lifted.
He only said the NCPO will discuss the matter with political parties on Dec 7, though major players such as the Thai Raksa Chart Party and Pheu Thai have revealed they will not attend the meeting.
Government spokesman Puttipong Punnakanta said on Monday that the decision to lift the ban will come after the election decree is announced.
Meanwhile, many aspiring politicians applied to join political parties on Monday.
Palang Pracharat Party, which is viewed as pro-junta and led by four members of Mr Prayut's Cabinet, continued to attract former MPs and veteran politicians into its fold. These included former Si Sa Ket MP Danairit Watcharaporn and Roi Et Provincial Administrative Organisation deputy chief executive Juriporn Sinthuprai, who is the younger sister of the north-east province's former MP Nisit Sinthuprai.
Mr Danairit and Ms Juriporn were the latest among a large group of politicians who defected from Pheu Thai to the pro-junta Palang Pracharat.
Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said that politicians were joining the pro-junta party for four key reasons: money, promises of government projects in their constituencies, gerrymandering that is favourable to them and promises of "help" with their legal problems.
However, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan dismissed claims that the junta would influence legal cases against politicians who join the pro-junta party. "The government is not a court and we can't control courts. This is a matter for the courts," he said.
The Democrat Party, meanwhile, managed to draw in more prominent figures on Monday.
Former Metropolitan Police deputy commissioner Wichai Sangprapai and former transport minister Aram-achawat Lohwira applied to join the Democrat Party and offered themselves as the party's election candidates. They were personally greeted by Mr Abhisit and other senior party figures at the party's headquarters.
On Sunday, former election commissioner Somchai Srisuthiyakorn joined the Democrat Party and is expected to become one of its election candidates.