Thai junta chief touts economy, coy on candidacy as elections loom

BANGKOK (Reuters) – The leader of Thailand’s military government on Friday credited the junta with restoring a strong economic footing and called for “continuity”, but he stopped short of saying whether he will be a candidate in long-delayed elections set for March 24.

Uttama Savanayana, Palang Pracharat Party leader, speaks with Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who is invited to become their top prime ministerial candidate at Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, February 1, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has expressed interest in entering politics but has not formally said whether he would stand in the general election.

In an almost two-hour speech broadcast live from Government House in Bangkok, Prayuth said his government had laid the foundation for long-term development.

He noted that Thailand had economic growth of only 1 percent at the time the military took power, in 2014, while central bank projections for 2018 growth are 4.2 percent.

“There must be continuity in the country’s development,” Prayuth said.

“In the past when new (governments) come in they start new things, this is not good, they should continue old policies.”

The military government introduced legislation in 2017 establishing a 20-year framework for development strategy. Critics say the legislation gives the military and bureaucracy a say in politics at the expense of elected officials.

The military, which seized power in a May 2014 coup, has blamed short-term populist policies introduced by previous civilian governments as a source of more than a decade of political instability.

The pro-military Palang Pracharat Party, which was co-founded by four of Prayuth’s former cabinet ministers, has said it is contesting the polls with the aim of continuing the work of the military government.

On Friday, the party leadership formally invited Prayuth to become their top prime ministerial candidate, but the former army chief was coy about whether he would take up the offer.

“To accept or not accept, it is up to their policies and whether I am OK with them,” Prayuth said in his speech, referring to the party.

“If I’m OK, then we can stay together … but if not, I’ll stay home.”

Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by Robert Birsel

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