As elections loom, Prayut gets cosy with old political clans

Prime Minister Gen Prayut addresses a crowd at Chang Arena, Muang, Buri Ram on Monday.

The sons of a convicted murderer, a rural “don” who has spun a fortune from football and gun-loving provincial bigwigs — as elections near, Thai junta leader Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha is cosying up to “influential figures”, a group he vowed to expunge from politics with his coup four years ago.

Throughout his rule Gen Prayut, the gruff ex-general whose army seized power in May 2014, has maintained one key refrain: politicians and their cronies are the cause of the country’s political instability.

But the 64-year-old is suddenly changing tune as he looks to complete a stunning metamorphosis from dictator to elected leader at polls promised for 2019.

The retired general has been coy on formally announcing a run for office.

Yet in recent months he has been busily courting the political fiefs that dominate the country, specifically potential allies of his nemesis, the billionaire former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

On Monday Gen Prayut rolls into Buri Ram, the northeastern province dominated by Newin Chidchob — an ex-politician turned sports mogul whose shape-shifting alliances have made him a key political “kingmaker”.

A full house of 36,000 is expected at Buriram FC’s “Thunder Castle” stadium to greet the prime minister — an unprecedented reception for the leader, whose popularity is on the slide among the Bangkok middle class.

The public adulation will be interpreted as sign of a deal with Mr Newin, who steers his Bhumjaithai Party from behind the scenes.

“Prayut has become the ultimate hypocrite,” said Paul Chambers, a Thailand-based expert on the kingdom’s politics.

After endless politician-bashing, “now Prayut and the (junta)…

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