BANGKOK (AA) – Thailand’s coup leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha has been elected by the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly as interim prime minister, signaling the military’s aim of exerting tight control over the political process initiated after their May 22 seizure of power.
In a quasi-unanimous vote Thursday, Chan-ocha received 188 votes from the 191 members present, with the assembly’s president and two vice presidents abstaining – as is customary for reason of political neutrality.
No other name had been nominated for the premiership to the assembly, all of whose members have been handpicked by the junta.
Thailand has not had a coup maker as head of a post-coup interim government since the military dictatorship of Field Marshall Sarit Thanarat in the 1960s.
In the two last putsches, in 1991 and 2006, the junta of the time had preferred to select technocrats or retired military officers as prime minister in order to lessen their authoritarian image vis-à-vis the international community.
General Chan-ocha’s rise to the premiership is a sign that the military seeks to avoid the risk of their agenda being altered by a civilian government with some leeway, as happened in 1991 and 2006.
Since the May 22 coup, Chan-ocha has grown more at ease in his position as country leader. In a televised address every Friday, he confidently speaks at length about the junta’s achievements in various sectors, such as the economy and control of mafia gangs.
Surveys typically indicate his high level of popularity – albeit, it is difficult to judge given that all criticisms of the junta are banned by martial law.
Despite this, criticisms are mounting on multiple fronts. Most notably, Chan-ocha is accused of reversing a decades-old policy of decentralization and cutting subsidies to assist farmers, as well as of a lack of transparency.
With the government’s composition expected to be announced in coming days alongside King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s approval of Chan-ocha’s appointment, local media have already suggested that at least a third of ministers will be military officers. The interim government will lead the country until the new election is held toward the end of 2015.
The junta has promised “fully democratic elections” in October 2015 after the endorsement of a permanent constitution, which will not be submitted to a popular referendum.
Thailand’s political crisis began in November when then Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra faced a wave of opposition protests after her government pushed through an amnesty that would have lifted the 2008 corruption conviction against her brother Thaksin, a divisive figure and ex-premier deposed in a 2006 coup.
Confronted by massive demonstrations, the government withdrew the bill, but the opposition alleged corruption by the government and Shinawatra family.
Yingluck dissolved the parliament December 9 and called February 2 elections, which were disrupted by the People Democratic Reform Committee, who want an unelected “people’s council” to run Thailand until the political system is reformed.
She was then herself removed by the Constitutional Court on May 7 in relation to the transfer of a high-ranking civil servant in 2011. The May 22 coup removed the remaining ministers and dissolved the Senate, the only standing legislative assembly.
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