Thai poll hopefuls register as opposition vows constitutional reform

Thai prime minister and United Thai Nation Party candidate Prayut Chan-O-Cha waits in line as he arrives for the first day of the constituencies candidates registration for the upcoming general election, in Bangkok on April 3, 2023. Photo by Lillian SUWANRUMPHA / AFP

Bangkok, Thailand -- Candidates began registering Monday for Thailand's upcoming general election, in which Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha faces a tough fight against opposition parties vowing to rewrite the kingdom's army-scripted constitution.

Former army chief Prayut, who came to power in a coup in 2014, insisted the country needed an experienced leader as he accompanied prospective MPs from his United Thai Nation.

He 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 supporters and candidates 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 May 14 for the first election since the kingdom was rocked by major youth-led protests in 2020 calling for political reform.

Prayut and his party are lagging in the polls behind Paetongtarn's Pheu Thai and the progressive Move Forward Party led by Pita Limjaroenrat.

But 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.

- Reform pledges -

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.

And it wants to hold public hearings to decide how to redraft the constitution.

"There is no way that this country can become democratic as long as we have an undemocratic constitution," Chusak Sirinin, a Pheu Thai deputy leader, said last week.

The Move Forward Party has made a similar pledge, with leader Pita Limjaroenrat saying he would aim to hold a referendum on rewriting the charter within 100 days of taking power.

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.

Paetongtarn -- who is eight months pregnant -- came to support Pheu Thai candidates as they registered on Monday, 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.

© Agence France-Presse

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