BANGKOK — Defying expectations from nearly every political observer, junta chairman Prayuth Chan-ocha earlier today accepted the nomination to be Thailand’s next prime minister.
In what promises to shape up as the most epic electoral showdown in Thai history, Gen. Prayuth will compete for the top job against Princess Ubolratana, the eldest child of the late King Bhumibol, who was nominated as the premier candidate of Thai Raksa Chart Party this morning.
In a lengthy statement, Prayuth said he would run as a candidate for the pro-junta Phalang Pracharat Party in order to maintain peace and order in the country.
Update: King Says Princess ‘Cannot’ Run for Office
“This decision is not easy because it’s an important moment for the nation,” Gen. Prayuth said in the statement released to the media. “Although I served as a soldier for all my life, I am [still] willing to sacrifice myself in order to protect Thailand.”
He also dismissed accusations that he wants to perpetuate his power over the next civilian government.
“I merely aim to protect the interest of the people and the country as my true priority,” Prayuth said.
Party leader Uttama Savanayana said he will formally submit Prayuth’s name as its sole candidate to the Election Commission at 1pm Friday – the last day all parties can do so.
Prayuth’s decision came as the second shock to many today because the contest directly pits the general against a member of the royal family. The monarchy is regarded as near divine in the country, and Prayuth has staked his credibility on being its personal protector. The armed forces have long cultivated a reputation as being unwavering defenders of the royal family.
Deputy prime minister Wissanu Krea-ngam declined to comment when reporters asked him about Princess Ubolratana’s nomination.
“I won’t answer that. I have no comments,” Wissanu said. “If I could answer you, I would. But I can’t.”
When a reporter asked whether he was surprised by the news, he shot back, “Are you?”