Thailand’s military ruler Prayuth Chan-Ocha has already given himself absolute power as head of the junta that controls the country. Now he’s looking to add legitimacy by taking on the role of prime minister.
It will be tough to convince critics that his probable appointment to the premiership today by his hand-picked legislature is anything more than the consolidation of power by a junta that has used the threat of detention and military trial to crack down on all dissent since ousting the elected government on May 22, in the country’s 12th coup in 82 years.
“Thai strongmen have long wanted to dignify their illegal hold on the country by assuming the title of prime minister,” said Michael Montesano, coordinator of the Thailand Studies Program at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. “And General Prayuth clearly sees himself as the latest in a long line of such strongmen.”
Prayuth, who is also army chief, has said the installation of an interim government is the next step in his plan to reform Thai politics and society before returning the country to elections in late 2015 at the earliest. It’s unclear what those reforms will look like, how inclusive they will be and whether the Thailand that emerges from them resembles the “happiness-filled” democracy that Prayuth, 60, has said his tactics will produce.
Prayuth’s own comments to the National Legislative Assembly, which is dominated by military men and other members of the country’s traditional elite, indicate that the interim government will be under control of the junta, which calls itself the National Council for Peace and Order.