Chuan Leekpai, former Democrat Party leader and prime minister in the 1990s, says he has no interest in returning to power ‘regardless of the Malaysian election’. (File photo by Chanat Katanyu)
Former Democrat Party leader Chuan Leekpai has hosed down speculation of his possible return as prime minister by vouching for incumbent leader Abhisit Vejjajiva to retain the role and vie to lead the county by contesting the general election expected next February.
Political observers have been speculating as to whether Mr Chuan would attempt to resume his former role as party leader after the world watched Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad stage a shock comeback last week to become the world’s oldest elected premier at the age of 92.
The rumour mill went into overdrive as people suggested the 79-year-old Democrat may also opt to return to power after Dr Mahathir smashed Malaysia’s ruling Barisan Nasional’s seemingly iron-clad, 60-year grip on power.
Some former Democrat MPs in the South have publicly supported Mr Chuan’s potential return to the helm of the party, but he later indicated this was unlikely.
“I still support Mr Abhisit to lead the party regardless of the Malaysian election,” he said.
Mr Chuan led the party from 1991-2008 and served as prime minister from 1992-1995 and again from 1997-2001. He now serves as its chief adviser.
When quizzed on whether he wanted to replace Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, he gave the following reply: “It’s possible but you may have to wait another 12 or 13 years. At that time, I’ll be about the same age as Dr Mahathir is now. But right now, [such a move] is impossible.”
Continuing to voice his support for Mr Abhisit, Mr Chuan said the Democrat Party operates under well-thought-out party rules. When it comes to selecting a leader, the party does not discriminate against any candidates, he said.
Mr Abhisit said the Democrat Party is now focusing on re-positioning itself as an alternative for the country’s future, rather than picking a fight with anyone.
The party is preparing for wide-ranging changes in society such as Thailand’s greying population and other technological advances, he said.
Addressing the issue of nominating party candidates for the prime ministerial post, he said this would be in line with party procedure.
“Mr Chuan still serves as the party’s chief adviser,” Mr Abhisit said.
On Tuesday, Mr Abhisit brushed aside a suggestion by deputy Democrat leader Alongkorn Ponlaboot that he retain the party leadership and Mr Chuan be nominated as a prime ministerial candidate.
Mr Abhisit said the septuagenarian still commands wide respect from party members and is known for his honesty and integrity, but he could not be pushed to embrace a role he didn’t want.
Meanwhile, ongoing efforts to reform the Democrat Party need the support of members belonging to all generations, Mr Abhisit said. He expressed confidence that the “new-age” version of the party would bring tangible change with the help of a broad spectrum of society.
In related news, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said Wednesday that Gen Prayut would choose a date in June to meet with political parties and discuss issues associated with the poll preparations.
When questioned about whether the meeting would be cancelled if only a few parties chose to participate, Mr Wissanu said it could be postponed but not axed entirely because it is mandated by an order from the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).
Mr Wissanu said the topics tabled for discussion would definitely concern the election but that it was not yet clear if a specific date for the election would be named.
In response to the question of what would happen if the two major parties — the Democrat and Pheu Thai parties — refuse to attend the meeting, Mr Wissanu said that about 90 medium- and small-size parties are still likely to attend.
However, the two major parties are urged to attend for their own benefit, Mr Wissanu said.
Mr Abhisit said he had no problem attending the meeting as he had several issues which he wanted to explain to the NCPO.
Speculation is rife that the NCPO will lift the ban on political activities next month to allow parties to prepare for the poll, which has been delayed several times.
On Tuesday the NCPO will mark the fourth anniversary of the 2014 coup it engineered.