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One Person Holds the Three Most Powerful Positions in Thailand Today

National Council for Peace and Order leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-Ocha during a ceremony for Queen Sirikit's 82nd birthday on Aug. 12, 2014. Photo by John Vincent. Copyright Demotix

National Council for Peace and Order leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-Ocha during a ceremony for Queen Sirikit's 82nd birthday on Aug. 12, 2014. Photo by John Vincent. Copyright Demotix

Prayuth Chan-ocha, the commander of the Royal Thai Army which staged a coup last May and installed a government known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), has been selected by the National Legislative Assembly as Thailand’s 29th prime minister. Prayuth is also the chairman of the NCPO.

It was the NCPO that appointed members of the legislative assembly who voted Prayuth to be prime minister. There were no other nominees for the position.

Despite having no experience in governance, Prayuth assumed several positions as head of the NCPO. He appointed himself as chairman of the Board of Investment, the National Energy Policy Committee, and the Special Economic Zone Development Committee.

The army led by Prayuth launched a coup last May in a bid to end the violent clashes between supporters of the country’s major political parties. The army nullified the constitution, detained hundreds of politicians, and controlled the newsroom of major media stations. It also outlawed protests and the public gathering of five or more people.

Prayuth promised to hand over power back to the civilian government only after substantial political and electoral reforms have been implemented. The NCPO drafted an interim constitution to restore normalcy in the country, but critics pointed out that it only legitimized the massive role of the army in the government.

During his first speech as prime minister, Prayuth vowed to bring back happiness to the people:

Let me give a promise to the people that I will fully dedicate myself as I carry out my duties. I will be honest, transparent, and I will uphold the interest of the nation and the people as the priority … in order to restore happiness and peace to the people.

The king of Thailand has already endorsed Prayuth, boosting the credibility of the army chief since the king is the country’s most respected and beloved public figure.

On Twitter, journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk underscored that Prayuth is an unelected prime minister

Prayuth’s dictatorial influence in the bureaucracy was recently demonstrated when nobody dared to disagree with him after he presented the country’s proposed 2015 national budget:

Former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and leader of the Democrat Party compared Prayuth’s coup with the 1957 coup, which also imposed an absolute control in the whole government. Meanwhile, Thai scholar Claudio Sopranzetti wrote that Prayuth’s political decisions are different from the overall strategy used by previous coup leaders in the past two decades:

I think Prayuth is making a personal attempt to assume the type of charismatic authority with popular support that none of the opposition governments in the last 20 years have been able to achieve.

Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, criticized the appointment of Prayuth and called it a “dark day for human rights.” “As both prime minister and junta leader, Gen. Prayuth can wield broad power without accountability. This marks a dark day for human rights and the future of democracy in Thailand,” he said.

Despite his appointment as prime minister, Prayuth announced that martial law will remain in Thailand. He has scheduled an election in October 2015, but this is still tentative because political reforms must first be implemented according to the standards set by the army.

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