Prayuth quits politics ahead of Thai PM vote

Nontarat Phaicharoen and Wilawan Watcharasakwej
Prayuth quits politics ahead of Thai PM vote Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha campaigns for the United Thai Nation Party ahead of the general election, May 12, 2023.
Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP

Prayuth Chan-o-cha, the former army chief who led a coup that toppled an elected government, quit politics on Tuesday after ruling over Thailand for nine years, during which there were a high number of arrests and curbs on pro-democracy activism.

Prayuth came to power in May 2014 as the head of a junta after spearheading a coup against the government of Yingluck Shinawatra that followed a series of bloody street protests. He took on the title of prime minister but only became a full-fledged one when lawmakers elected him to the post after the 2019 general election, even though he was not voted in as an MP.

“From now on, I’m leaving politics by resigning as a member of the United Thai Nation Party,” he said in a statement on the party’s Facebook page. 

“May the leader, party executive and members stay strong to conduct the ideology to protect the nation, religion and the monarchy.”

In May’s general election, his United Thai Nation Party (UTNP), whom he represented as the prime minister candidate, won only 36 of 500 lower house seats. 

His announcement could pave the way for Pita Limjaroenrat, leader of the pro-democracy Move Forward Party, to be elected prime minister when the two houses of the Thai legislature vote on Thursday, one observer said.

In his farewell statement, Prayuth, 69, did not say why he decided to exit politics. 

“I believe every one of you know that over the past nine years, I, as a prime minister, have been dedicated to protecting the nation, religion and the monarchy to achieve benefits for the beloved people. All of these came to fruition for the entire country,” he said.

“I have used utmost efforts to build the nation’s strength in all aspects – stability, peace – and weathered domestic and external obstacles and practically achieved the goals.”   

The party’s leader said Prayuth got out of politics because he did not want to be seen as a trouble maker. 

“He was linked to issues of criticism. … There was an unfounded rumor that he has tried to make a minority government which would undermine his and the party’s image, so the best way out is to call it quits,” UTNP leader Peeraphan Salirathaviphak said. 

The party is not pitching a replacement candidate for prime minister.

11 TH-prayuth-2.jpeg
Gen. Prayuth Chan-o-cha (left in uniform), then Thailand’s army chief, along with then-Armed Forces chief Gen. Thanasak Patimaprakorn talk to reporters after a live-fire drill in Nakhon Ratchasima province, Thailand, July 12, 2013. [RFA file photo]

A Prayuth supporter reacted sadly to the announcement.

“Without him the country could have tail-spun into a civil war,” a 70-year-old Bangkok retiree who asked to be named only Kitti for privacy concerns told BenarNews.

He was referring to Prayuth’s role as a military leader in thwarting deadly protests in 2009 through 2014.  

Prayuth’s term has been marked by controversy.

Beginning in July 2020, youth-led protests sprang up across the nation. The demonstrators issued three demands – that Prayuth resign, the constitution be rewritten and the monarchy be reformed.

In November 2020, Prayuth warned demonstrators that “all pertaining laws,” including the strict royal defamation Lèse-Majesté, law would be enforced. 

As of March 2023, at least 238 people, including a 15-year-old girl, have been charged with violating Lèse-Majesté, Thai Lawyers for Human Rights said.

Vote set

Meanwhile, the 750-member bicameral parliament is to vote on Thursday to elect a new prime minister, with the Move Forward Party’s Pita seen as the leading candidate. His eight-party coalition holds 312 seats, but is short of the 376 needed to form a government.

An analyst said some of the 250 senators selected by the junta ahead of the 2019 election could break for Pita.

“I think Prayuth’s exit increases the chance for Pita to become a prime minister at the first voting because resistance from the Senate would be less,” Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of political science faculty at Ubon Ratchathani University, told BenarNews.

“The conservative bloc may allow Pita to become a prime minister, in the meantime, because the momentum of support vastly tips to Pita and the Move Forward Party. That could relieve pressure and the possibility of mass protest,” he said. 

“But in the long run, Pita could be yanked from his post,” Titipol said.

The previous two pro-democratic prime ministers – Thaksin Shinawatra and his younger sister, Yingluck – were driven from office by military coups. 

11 TH-prayuth-3 inside.jpg
Demonstrators rally at the Monument of Victory in Bangkok two days after the military overthrew the Yingluck Shinawatra administration in a coup, May 24, 2014. [RFA file photo]

House Speaker Wan Muhamad Noor Matha said parliament would convene at 9:30 a.m. Thursday to debate Pita’s qualifications before votes are to be tallied around 5 p.m.

“There is no rule about how many times Pita could be nominated,” Wan Noor said. “It’s up to the parties involved to manage the matter.”


On Tuesday, Pita called on House MPs and otherwise rival senators to vote for him.  

“The voting for the prime minister on July 13 is not a mere election of Pita or Move Forward Party, but it is the confirmation for Thailand to move along the democratic path in line with democratic countries worldwide,” he said in a Twitter post.

“I want to take this chance to send the message to all members of the lower- and the upper-house that though you may dislike our political approach … you can cross examine me, attack me and vote me out of the post. But, to vote for the majority government is the chance for the nation to move on with the right course,” Pita said in a message to the conservative members of the senate.

He also appealed to the people.

“It is apparent that Thailand remains under an irregular political situation. Elected governments were overthrown again and again by military coups, litigious war and party dissolution,” he said. 

“The irregularity stemmed from the 2017 Constitution. … But this is the chance we can return normalcy to Thailand’s politics.”


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.