By Chayut Setboonsarng and Panarat Thepgumpanat
BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand’s ruling pro-military Palang Pracharat party has chosen political veteran and former army chief Prawit Wongsuwon as its prime minister candidate, a senior official said on Friday, as parties gear up for an election that must be held by May.
Prawit, an adept political dealmaker in Thailand’s conservative establishment and current deputy prime minister, will likely go against the Pheu Thai Party’s Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the daughter of self-exiled former premier, Thaksin Shinawatra, who has declared her readiness for the top job.
“He is the centre of the party … our members, parliamentarians all see him as talented and most suitable,” Palang Pracharat’s deputy leader Paiboon Nititawan said after a party meeting.
Prawit, 77, could also face off with incumbent prime minister and protege Prayuth Chan-ocha, 68, who has joined the United Thai Nation Party and has hinted at a bid to extend his rule, which started with a coup he led eight years ago.
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Both are former army chiefs who often refer to each other as brothers, hailing from the elite Queen’s Guard unit. Both were involved in coups against governments controlled by the Shinawatra family.
Prawit could not immediately be reached for comment on Friday but when asked last week if he was ready to be premier, he said: “Just vote for me.”
In a Facebook post on Wednesday Prawit said “politicians must be able to work with all parties, compromise to reduce conflict and adhere to the public interest.”
Despite sharing a conservative electoral base, some observers say the two generals running for different parties could be strategic and advantageous in ensuring they stay in power.
“There is a strong likelihood that they will work together during and after the vote,” said Ben Kiatkwankul, partner at government affairs advisory, Maverick Consulting Group.
A “divide and conquer” strategy might work, he added, with Prawit’s party able to win votes in areas where Prayuth may not be popular.
(Reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Martin Petty)
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