Gen. Prayuth Can Debate & Campaign, EC Rules

Junta chairman Prayuth Chan-ocha sings along with students at a school in Rayong province on Feb. 27, 2019.

BANGKOK — Junta chairman Prayuth Chan-ocha is free to debate his opponents on TV and walk the streets in canvassing trails just as other politicians, the Election Commission confirmed Friday.

The greenlight came after Phalang Pracharat Party, which has named Gen. Prayuth its candidate to be premier, asked the commission to clarify the issue, lest he violated the constitution. In response, the commission said Prayuth is entitled to the same rights as other candidates but urged him not to exploit his office. He has served as prime minister since the 2014 coup.

The general has come under pressure from politicians to engage in debates and be subjected to the same scrutiny as other party candidates. Major parties have already confronted each other through televised debates, which became topics of lively discussions on social media.

Gen. Prayuth has repeatedly refused the challenge, citing his concerns of breaking voting regulations. The retired general is also a garrulous and undisciplined speaker who is unaccustomed to being challenged publicly.

No response was available today from the junta leader as he is on sick leave, his aides said.

Democrat Party chairman Abhisit Vejjajiva welcomed the Election Commission’s decision, but warned Prayuth not to exploit his powers to canvass for votes.

“If he enters the race as an equal, no one has a problem with him,” Abhisit said while campaigning in Korat this morning. “He has to be mindful of himself.”

Asked whether Prayuth now lacks any excuse to avoid debate, Abhisit said it’s up to the junta chairman to decide.

“It’s his own decision whether to enter a debate,” the Democrat chairman said. “Whether he’s afraid to answer questions, you’ll have to ask him yourself. I don’t know, and I cannot answer on his behalf.”