Thailand’s coup leader-turned-PM retires from politics

By Lobsang DS Subirana

Bangkok, Jul 11 (EFE).- Thailand’s interim Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha announced he was resigning from his party Tuesday, ending the former coupmaker’s nearly decade-long stint at the country’s helm, just two months after his failed re-election bid.

Prayut made his statement through the United Thai Nation party’s official Facebook and Twitter channels, adding that he would retire from political life, which follows a weak performance in May’s general election, won by progressive party Move Forward.

“I would like to announce my retirement from politics by resigning from the United Thai Nation Party,” the leader said, adding that he had asked the party to “continue to take care of the Thai people.”

The prime minister led the May 2014 military coup that deposed the democratically elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra, plunging the country into yet another dictatorship.

Throughout his time in government, Prayut appealed to conservative Thais with a narrative of protecting the country and its powerful royal institutions, whom many considered the key to stable governance.

“I believe everyone knows that throughout the past nine years as prime minister, I have worked with full determination, dedication and strength to protect the nation, religion, and the monarchy and for the benefit of the people,” he said, adding that the fruit of his efforts could be seen countrywide.

He oversaw the death in 2016 of Thailand’s late King Bhumibol, considered a unifying figure in a politically volatile nation that saw more than a dozen coup attempts throughout his reign. Prayut vowed to stabilize the country during this time and extended calling elections on such grounds.

The general’s transition into politics came in the lead-up to the 2019 elections, for which a more affable Prayut – notorious for his outburst and tirades – said he was a “… a politician who used to be a soldier.”

The leader was elected in polls that many international monitors considered free but not fair.

“I never wanted to be a politician for a single day. Since Day 1 until now, I never wanted to. But I did it because of a sense of responsibility,” he said in 2018.

But his narrative fell afoul of progressive Thais, as did the methods used to justify his means, such as frequent use of the 2014 constitution’s Section 44 – which granted him unrestricted executive power, allowing him to bypass checks and balances until 2019 – to resolve controversial matters.

The regression in Thailand’s human rights record was also directly linked to his administration, with scores of jailings through the country’s draconian royal defamation law and some high-profile cases of enforced disappearances and political exiles.

Article 112 of the country’s penal code punishes all insults toward the royal family with three to 15 years in prison. It was heavily used to quash the 2020 student-led pro-democracy movement, which demanded political and monarchic reform – breaking the taboo of criticizing Thailand’s royalty.

“I have managed state affairs to the fullest of my abilities,” Prayut said, talking about the progress his administration made in the fields of transport, communication, internet, public utilities, and foreign investment and adding that he hoped the next administration would continue in his footsteps.

His decision to step down comes two days before parliament votes for the country’s next prime minister – a post Prayut has occupied both as a totalitarian general and later an elected official – in a process likely to reach a stalemate due to constitutional clauses his unelected government introduced.

Prayut’s military junta instated a rubber-stamped unicameral parliament the year he took power, drafting and passing the country’s current charter in 2017 without consultation of other political formations and a ratification process international observers deemed neither free nor fair.

Clauses include a return to bi-cameralism, with a 250-senator upper house entirely handpicked by the military junta that has the power to vote for the prime minister along with the 500-member elected lower house.

The prime minister performed poorly in May’s vote, winning only 36 seats and quashing his re-election hopes, made worse by what people considered a poor management of the Covid-19 pandemic, a slow economic recovery and a term limit that would have forced him to step down in 2024.

“These are the things that I, as prime minister, and the government, have done for the nation and the people over the past nine years,” Prayut said. “I truly hope that the next government will continue to work on this.” EFE

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