BANGKOK: The last time most Thais saw politician Suthep Thaugsuban was in 2015 when he entered the Buddhist monkhood and announced his retirement after spearheading protests that culminated in a military coup against a government he detested.

The military, after taking power, clamped a tight lid on politics, and the rivalry between the military-royalist establishment and new upstart political forces that had roiled the country for a decade was stifled.

But now a long-promised general election is on the horizon – due sometime between February and May – and old animosities are stirring and veteran political brawler Suthep, 68, is back.

Suthep, a one-time deputy prime minister in a pro-establishment government, has said he will contest the election under the banner of a new party he set up to sustain the work of the military government and to campaign for its leader, Prayuth Chan-ocha, to be prime minister of a civilian administration.

The return of Suthep, who has a record of mobilising crowds on the streets in support of the establishment, could be a big asset for the military which has made no secret of its aim to retain a grip over politics after the election.

The military and Suthep have common cause in their burning desire to rid the country of the influence of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra and his family, whose supporters have been biding their time and pinning their hopes on the election.

Suthep makes no secret of his support for former army chief Prayuth and his wish to see him return as prime minister after the vote, but says he must defer to his new party, the Action Coalition for Thailand, which has yet to spell out its position.

“He’s a good guy, not corrupt, determined, and he has the trust of his people and is loyal to the monarchy,” Suthep told Reuters in a recent interview.

“So I cheer him on, the more he can succeed, the better for the country,” Suthep said, while adding he had…

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