Thai ruling party names DPM Prawit Wongsuwan as main election candidate

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan (pictured) will run against incumbent Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK - Thailand’s ruling party on Friday named Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan as its candidate to be premier in the kingdom’s upcoming general election.

The army-backed Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) gave the 77-year-old former army chief the nod as unofficial campaigning gathers momentum – although no polling date has yet been announced.

Mr Prawit will run against incumbent Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who earlier in January announced that he would lead the campaign for the recently created Ruam Thai Sang Chart – in English, United Thai Nation (UTN) – party.

The UTN was purportedly formed in 2021, as a vehicle to support Mr Prayut’s re-election bid.

It must secure at least 25 of the 500 MP seats during the polls to be able to nominate Mr Prayut as its PM candidate. The Senate and MPs will vote for a premier from among the eligible candidates nominated by their respective parties.

Mr Prayut came to power as army chief in a 2014 coup before cementing his position in a controversial election in 2019, and he and Mr Prawit were close allies during the years of junta rule.

However, political differences have reportedly driven a wedge between them. Still, Mr Prayut insists that their ties remain strong.

While Mr Prayut was never an official member of the PPRP, the pro-military party successfully supported his return to the premiership in the 2019 election.

Legally, a premier’s term limit is capped at eight years. In September, a court ruling determined that there are only two years left on Mr Prayut’s tenure if he returns to office in 2023.

In late December, Mr Prayut said he would seek a third term as premier under the UTN banner, confirming months-long speculation that he would leave PPRP.

Mr Prayut’s popularity is in the doldrums and the kingdom is battling a sluggish economy struggling to recover from the pandemic, which hammered the key tourism sector.

PPRP launched Mr Prawit’s candidature at a low-key event in Bangkok that he did not attend.

“We unanimously proposed Prawit Wongsuwan to be the sole PM candidate of our party,” PPRP deputy leader Paibul Nititawan told reporters.

The main opposition party, Pheu Thai, is expected to name Ms Paetongtarn Shinawatra – daughter of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra – as one of its candidates for prime minister.

Billionaire tycoon Thaksin, ousted as prime minister in a 2006 coup, lives in self-imposed exile in Dubai to avoid corruption charges he has said are politically motivated.

While Pheu Thai is polling strongly, the current Thai Constitution, which was drafted under junta rule, gives army-linked parties a strong advantage.


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