BANGKOK, THAILAND — Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha, facing a tough battle to win a new term, said Monday the kingdom needs an experienced leader, as candidates began registering for next month’s general election.
The former army chief, who came to power in a coup in 2014, faces a difficult challenge from a resurgent opposition fronted by Paetongtarn Shinawatra, daughter of billionaire former PM Thaksin Shinawatra.
Prayut, 69, arrived on an open-top truck with prospective MPs and supporters from his United Thai Nation party in lively scenes at a Bangkok sports hall.
Thailand “needs people who know how to do the job. If they have never done it, they can’t do it,” Prayut told Thairath TV.
Thais go to the polls on 14 May for the first election since the kingdom was rocked by major youth-led pro-democracy protests in 2020.
Prayut and his party are lagging in the polls behind Paetongtarn’s Pheu Thai and the pro-reform Move Forward Party led by Pita Limjaroenrat.
Under Prayut, the kingdom has struggled to bounce back from the economic impact of COVID-19.
Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia — apart from coup-hit Myanmar — where GDP has not yet recovered to pre-pandemic levels, according to the World Bank.
While opposition parties are riding high in the polls, Thailand’s junta-scripted 2017 constitution gives army-favoured parties a big advantage when it comes to forming a government.
To become prime minister, a candidate must win a majority of the 500 elected lower-house MPs as well as 250 military-appointed senators.
Pheu Thai has said it is targeting a landslide victory in the election to prevent the military establishment from blocking its route to power, as happened in 2019 when it won most seats but was shut out of government.
Paetongtarn — who is eight months pregnant — came to support Pheu Thai candidates as they registered, though neither she nor Prayut is running as an MP.
The 2017 constitution does not require the prime minister to be an elected lawmaker.
If successful, the 36-year-old would be following both her father and her aunt Yingluck — whom Prayut ousted in his 2014 coup — in becoming PM.