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WHILE there are no signs of chaos and the authorities say the country is now peaceful, Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha has threatened not to call an election unless there is public order this year. He also dismissed speculation that he was already forming a political party to enable his return to power after the election. “If you want an election, you should stay in order peacefully. I cannot call an election if conflicts remain, and I cannot take responsibility for such disputes,” he said.
“By saying that, it does not mean I would delay the election, but I just want to warn people not to make trouble for the country,” he said. “People also should not support people who create difficulties.”
Prayut did not make clear which factions were creating problems but, as he has in the past, he blamed the two major parties, the Democrat Party and Pheu Thai, for calling street protests against each other over the past decade. Prayut has always portrayed the junta as a neutral party that staged the military coup in 2014 to end conflicts between the two rival political camps.
“Do you remember what the two parties did in the past? I don’t understand why they are turning the attack on me now,” Prayut said.
Political parties have strongly criticised the junta chief for using his absolute power under Article 44 to amend the Political Party Act. They say this will create problems for them in verifying their membership lists, and could give the upper hand to a new party set up to support Prayut.
Pheu Thai has lodged a petition with the Constitution Court to reject Prayut’s order and the Democrats plan to do the same.
“I did not intend to dissolve members of the parties,” Prayut said. “And the 30-day deadline for the verification process is long enough, as they only need a minimum of 500 members.”
Prayut rejected reports that he was preparing to set up a military-backed party to run in the election. These rumours re-emerged most recently after a picture of him with members of a political clan in Nakhon Pathom was circulated last week.
“Please be fair with me. Anybody can set up a political party and if people see that it proposes good candidates, they will choose that party,” he said. “Why are you paranoid about me?
Prayut said his New Year resolution was to see a reduction in poverty and moves towards a conflict-free democracy. “I want transparent and efficient politicians to implement the national strategy for poverty reduction and people’s happiness,” he said. He added that his government had a lot to do in 2018 for sustainable development but did not want to merely give money to the poor since that would not solve the problem.
“I want the new government to do as my government is doing. We need a clear objective and direction for specific groups that have different demands,” he said.
Meanwhile, Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva yesterday urged Prayut’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to “make the best of their final year in power”.
“Thai society has given so much opportunity to the NCPO despite severe economic problems,” Abhisit said, adding that people wanted to see reforms promised by Prayut. He said reform would only be possible with public participation in government.