Prayuth Chan-ocha, former Thai army chief and prime minister, has announced his retirement from politics after a nine-year tenure marked by controversy and reshaping of power structures.
Prayuth previously orchestrated a coup to overthrow the elected government in May 2014 and assumed the role of prime minister while consolidating his authority. Under his military government, Prayuth introduced a new constitution in 2017, ensuring the continued influence of the coup leaders. During his tenure, dissent was met with intolerance, and the severe lese majeste law was employed against those questioning the monarchy’s role.
Prayuth’s foray into the political arena came in May’s general election, where he contested as the prime ministerial candidate for a newly formed conservative party, which gained only 36 seats out of the 500 in parliament. Prayuth, known for his straightforward demeanor and staunch support for the monarchy, initially struggled with the press’s scrutiny. He once jokingly threatened to have reporters executed.
During his tenure, Prayuth’s administration faced criticism from younger protesters who opposed military rule, citing his inability to revitalize the sluggish economy and address corruption. The Move Forward party, committed to ending military interference in politics, secured first place in the recent election.
Despite his authoritarian leadership, Prayuth maintained popularity among older Thais and facilitated the succession of King Vajiralongkorn after King Bhumibol’s 70-year reign.
In May 2023, general elections were held in Thailand to elect 500 members of the House of Representatives. The Move Forward Party, committed to ending military interference in politics and led by Pita Limjaroenrat, emerged as a strong contender for the prime minister’s seat. The Pheu Thai party, led by the daughter of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Paethongtarn Shinawatra was also a significant contender. Ultimately, Pita Limjaroenrat won the election, signifying a significant shift toward a more democratic and progressive Thailand.
This election outcome is connected to Prayuth Chan-ocha’s retirement from politics, as it marks a new era of democratic hope and reduced military influence, similar to what the Move Forward party had been advocating for.