8 years after he toppled the elected government, Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the Prime Minister, has officially joined the Ruam Thai Sang Chart Party (United Thai Nation Party), adding that he values the democratisation process.
Prayut, in the party's jersey, greets his overwhelming supporters as he walks to the main stage.
A Prachatai English reporter struggled to record the Prime Minister’s words as he pushed through a crown of media representatives to wave at his supporters gathered at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre on 9 January 2023.
"I stand here because I respect the democratisation process of Thailand, not because I want to stay longer. I am here to tell you that Thailand must go forward, on stable and secure ground, towards a prosperous future as fast as possible." said Prayut during his speech.
The Thai coup maker stated that this was the first time he had ever applied to become a member of a political party. He affirmed his commitment to uphold the nation, religion, and the monarchy, values that Thais have been taught in school, and informed by the media, to respect and uphold.
Influential figures spotted at the event included Don Pramudwinai, a Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Asawin Kwanmuang, a former Bangkok governor. Both were appointed to posts in Prayut's military regime.
Prior to Gen Prayut's appearance, Peerapan Saleerattawipak, a former Democrat Party lawmaker turned Ruam Thai Sang Chart chairperson, said the party aims to be an organisation that people can rely on to bring harmony and reconciliation back to Thailand.
According to Peerapan, party membership has grown quickly, increasing from 7,000 in August 2022 to 27,000 in January 2023. In addition to Prayut, the party’s other core members were also present at the event.
Prayut gives a speech, surrounded by party members.
On the same day, Prayut also announced the appointment of Seksakol Atthawong, Chatchawal Kong-udom, and Chumpol Kanchana, all core party members, as advisors to the Prime Minister.
Seksakol was previously Prayut’s aide. However in April 2022 he resigned after allegations emerged of his involvement in lottery quota corruption scandal. Chumpol is a former Surat Thani MP whose family is influential in the area.
Chatchawal is a former Palang Thongtin Thai Party leader and a figure well-known for his ‘past’ involvement with underground casinos.
Prayut staged a coup in 2014, ousting the Yingluck Shinawatra's administration, and staying on in the PM’s post. In the general election of 2019, a Palang Pracharat Party-led coalition secured the majority of seats in parliament and nominated him for PM. At the time, he was neither a member of a political party nor a member of parliament.
The move was made possible by the junta’s 2017 Constitution. It was approved by a nationwide referendum. There were many who opposed the charter, but their voices were suppressed.
While the party was making a day of it inside the convention centre, Chuwit Kamolvisit, the renowned ex-entertainment massage tycoon, whistleblower, and ex-politician was waiting at the entrance.
Chuwit talks to the media with bananas in his hand.
He said he was hoping for the chance to ask Prayut about the PM’s progress in hunting down a local Chinese triad network, a “masterpiece” feature that he has been systematically exposing over the past few months.
On 8 January, he posted on Facebook, alleging Gen Prayut’s grandson, who worked at Contemporary Construction Co Ltd was linked financially to Du Hao, a Chinese-turned-Thai tycoon who was recently charged for running an illegal business.
In the post, Chuwit wrote that Prayut’s grandson acted “as something like a nominee” - ostensibly owning 50 buses that Du Hao rented to use in his tourism business. He also implied that Du Hao not been charged with money laundering because the Prime Minister’s grandson would necessarily have been summoned for interrogation.
To symbolise the alleged cronyism under Prayut’s administration, Chuwit set up a small shrine with candles, incense, and bananas near the front of the convention centre. He also called upon Prayut to have his grandson address the allegations.
In the evening after the convention ended, Chuwit was invited to meet Prayut. Himalai Phiupan, an advisor to the House Committee on Police, escorted him from to the room where Prayut was resting.
Chuwit, escorted by Himalai (at Chuwit's left side) to meet Prayut.
Chuwit, with political rally props, greets the departing Ruam Thai Sang Chart supporters on his way to meet Prayut.
Thai Post reported that the two men talked for about 20 minutes. Afterwards, Prayut said “We’ve talked and have no issues.”
According to Chuwit, the PM pledged that he would solve the problem but stated that the process may take time. He reportedly also asked Chuwit to leave off publishing on the matter and hand over whatever evidence he had to the authorities.