BANGKOK -- Few observers will have been surprised when Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha made it clear that he hoped to stay in politics after elections due next year, but his bid to retain power is stoking public concern over political turbulence.
"I am interested in political positions," Prayuth, who has been in power since a military coup in 2014, told reporters on Sept. 24, adding that he would stay on to ensure that policies launched by his military government would be carried out as planned.
His message confirmed what critics and political peers had long suspected -- that he would be unwilling to give up the reins of power. Constitutional amendments made by the National Council for Peace and Order, the ruling junta, in 2017 allow an unelected person to become prime minister.
Ramkamhaeng University politics lecturer Boonyakiat Karawekphan said that Prayuth now had "two choices to retain power."
The first is to stand in the election as a member of a political party and try to win a majority in the lower house.
The second would be to wait for an invitation to retain the position from a winning party that supported him, making him an unelected prime minister.
To this end, Prayuth has managed to secure the support of the Phalang Pracharat Party, a pro-military, conservative body founded early this year. The party will be led by Industry Minister Uttama Savanayana, Three other ministers from Thailand’s military government joined the party.
Prayuth is also getting support from Sam Mitr, a group known as the "trio" formed recently by Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak and former transport minister Suriya Juangroongruangkit.
Both groups have been actively poaching former MPs from the Pheu Thai Party, a group that supports Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by the military in 2006 after being in power for five years.
The two new parties claim there are now enough MPs who will vote in their favor.
Many in the business community are also keen for Prayuth to stay on, hoping that he will maintain the country's main economic policies, including significant investment in the Eastern Economic Corridor, a brainchild of the junta designed to spur sluggish growth.
For the public, however, the major concern is not if or how Prayuth retains power, but focuses on how he would manage to rule if required to compromise with groups that have different aims and expectations.
"It would be very difficult to manage to compromise with those political groups, particularly when he no longer has the powerful 'Section 44' and no protection from the NCPO," said Boonyakiat. Section 44 is in the preliminary constitution imposed after the NCPO staged its coup. It empowers the military, particularly its head, to intervene in any national issue.
Prayuth has used this rule in a number of cases, including the removal of high-ranking government officials. He claims this was done to solve problems quickly, while critics argue it is an infringement of democracy.
Under the constitution, the NCPO will be automatically dissolved following the election of a new government, meaning the administration will no longer be supported by a powerful group of generals.
Jade Donavanik, a law lecturer who was part of the constitution-drafting committee, said that Prayuth may find it hard to unite the government.
"It is not a surprise that he said he would stay in politics or get back to power. The most concerning issue is how Gen. Prayuth would manage to work with several political groups to run the country smoothly," said Jade.
Earlier in September, King Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun endorsed the last two bills required for the country to hold a general election, which is now expected to take place between February and May next year.