Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said yesterday that he plans to dissolve Parliament early next month, paving the way for an election that will now most likely take place on May 7.
His government’s term expires on March 23, but in remarks to reporters after a Cabinet meeting, Prayut repeated suggestions that he made last week that he would dissolve the House of Representatives before that. “I have told the cabinet about the timeline to dissolve the House, which is expected to be in early March, he said, according to Nikkei Asia.
Prayut said the election commission needed until the end of this month to agree on a time frame, while dissolving parliament in early March would give candidates sufficient time to prepare, Reuters reported. Asked by a reporter if the election would take place on May 7, a potential date previously outlined by the election commission, the famously gruff and laconic Prayut responded, “Sure, why not?”
Government spokesperson Anucha Burapachaisri confirmed that if the election is held in early May, the Election Commission will ratify the results in early July, The Associated Press reported. The newly elected Parliament would then convene and appoint a chair by mid-July, leading to the selection of a new prime minister around the end of the month. This would allow an official campaign period of 45-60 days prior to what is likely to be a fiercely fought contest.
The upcoming election will mark the beginning of a new electoral turn for Prayut’s career. Despite leading Thailand for nearly nine years, five of them as a military dictator after leading the military coup of 2014, he has never personally stood for election. The 68-year-old did not take part in the last election in 2019, but was appointed by parliament to lead the coalition assembled by the military-backed Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP). (Crucially, he enjoyed the support of the 250 military-appointed members of the Senate, a key provision of the constitution that his military junta drafted and passed in 2017.)
While Prayut is now only two years shy of his constitutionally mandated eight-year term limit (the Constitutional Court has ruled that this term only began with the passage of the new constitution), he is seeking to extend his tenure at the head of the newly formed United Thai Nation party, to which he decamped last month. The PPRP will be represented by Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon, a former associate of Prayut’s with whom he has reportedly had a fallen out, though the two parties represent more or less the same establishmentarian interests.
The main force on the other side of the divide is the Pheu Thai Party, which is associated with the exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and will be led into the election by his daughter Paetongtarn Shinawatra. The 36-year-old neophyte says she is hoping to replicate the string of election victories that the Thaksinite parties have won since 2001, in the face of staunch opposition from Thai’s traditional ruling classes. Indeed, most of these governments have been removed by underhand means, either by force (military coups in 2006 and 2014) or by questionable court rulings.
All of this sets up yet another variation on the political theme that has dominated 21st century Thai politics: the clash between the Thaksinite insurgency and the crusted-on conservative establishment clustered around the institutions of the military and monarchy. Only time will tell whether the outcome is any different.