Long-serving Thai PM hints at re-election bid under new party

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand's long-serving leader Prayuth Chan-ocha vowed to continue his work running the country under a new political party on Monday, hinting at a bid to remain prime minister after an election this year.

The 68-year-old retired general, who has been in power since leading a coup in 2014, early last month said he was ready to stay on longer, even though the constitution limits him to just two more years.

Prayuth is currently trailing in opinion polls on the top choice for next prime minister, a distant second behind the 36-year-old niece of Yingluck Shinawatra, whose government he ousted in 2014.

"Many things have to continue, and more needs to be done for the country to forge ahead," Prayuth told about 10,000 people at the launch of the new United Thai Nation Party, which he has joined.

"I came here today not because I wanted power but because Thailand has to keep going."

Prayuth has yet to dissolve parliament and an election must be held by May this year, according to the constitution.

The new party, led by figures from the country's conservative establishment, has yet to declare its candidate for prime minister.

During his more than eight years in power, Prayuth has survived multiple challenges via court cases, confidence votes and street protests by opponents who see him as an opportunist who lacks a public mandate.

He was junta chief before a military-appointed legislature named him prime minister, a post he kept after a 2019 election that his critics say was held under rules that ensured he stayed in power. Prayuth insists he was elected fairly.

The Constitutional Court last year ruled his first three years in charge did not count towards the maximum eight years a prime minister can serve. If elected again, he would only be allowed to serve half a term.

(Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Nick Macfie)