Thailand’s coup leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha has been appointed prime minister by a legislature he hand-picked, giving the army chief a veneer of legitimacy even while the military presses on with efforts to silence its critics.
Although Prayuth’s appointment yesterday paves the way for an interim government to be set up in the coming weeks, power will remain firmly in the junta’s hands. Prayuth has effectively served as de facto premier since the May 22 coup.
The general has said he plans to press ahead with a year of political reforms before a new election that he said will take place by late 2015.
Al Jazeera’s Veronica Pedrosa, reporting from Pattani in Thailand, said people were worried about the spread of militarisation from the country’s south.
“It has happened before that there has been a coup leader that became prime minister, but it is very unusual,” Pedrosa said.
“Usually there is a civilian government that is put in place – technocrats who are experts. It could be a risk for him [Prayuth], because expectations will be very high surrounding him.”
Prayuth was attending a miltary ceremony and was not in parliament when he was appointed premier, she said.
The 60-year-old is due to retire from the armed forces next month and the change appears aimed in part at ensuring stability and continuity as the military implements sweeping political reforms in the months or possibly years.
The military says it took power to avert further bloodshed and restore stability after six months of often violent street protests pitting supporters of ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra against her Bangkok-based royalist opponents.
Any public dissent against the takeover was aggressively repressed by the army in the weeks following the coup.
General Prayuth, whose weekly speeches to the nation are tinged with nationalist overtones, has carried out sweeping changes since he seized power tackling everything from beach cleanup campaigns to energy policy. He has outlined a three-phase roadmap of reconciliation, formation of a new government and elections to take place by late 2015.
Earlier this week, Prayuth appeared at Parliament to approve the next fiscal year’s budget. He was dressed for the first time in public in a business suit, an apparent signal he was readying for the new job.
Prayuth’s nomination must be approved by King Bhumibol Adulyadej, a formality likely to occur within a week. Prayuth will then name a new cabinet.
Thailand has not had a prime minister since caretaker premier Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan’s government was ousted in the May coup.
Niwattumrong held the position only briefly to replace Yingluck, who took office after a landslide 2011 election. She was removed from office for nepotism in a court case her supporters say was politically motivated; she has kept an intensely low profile since the coup, part of a vast coterie of politicians who have been forced into silence.
Thailand has been deeply divided since 2006, when former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra – Yingluck’s brother – was toppled in an earlier army coup after being accused of corruption, abuse of power and disrespect for Bhumibol.