Three months after overthrowing an elected government, Thailand’s junta leader is stepping out of his army uniform to take up the post of Prime Minister, in a move critics say will prolong his rule and bolster the military’s grip on power.
Thailand’s parliament has voted overwhelmingly in favour of handing General Prayuth Chan-ocha the new job. There was little doubt over the outcome since he was the only candidate and the assembly – hand-picked by the junta – is dominated by active and retired duty officers.
The 60-year-old leader is to retire from the army next month and until then will hold both positions.
The appointment appears to be aimed at maintaining power as the military implements sweeping political reforms, which critics say are designed to purge the ousted ruling party’s influence and benefit an elite minority that has failed to win national elections for more than a decade.
General Prayuth has, in effect, served as the de facto Prime Minister since staging the 22 May coup. For several years before that, he held the position of army chief, a post many regard as one of the country’s most powerful. Thailand’s military has a history of intervening in politics and has seized power 12 times since the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932.
“He could have refused the job, but what would be the point?” said Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a Thai professor of South-east Asian studies at Japan’s Kyoto University. “If he wasn’t Prime Minister, he would have been manipulating the Prime Minister from behind the scenes,” he added.