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Bangkok Coup Leader Becomes Prime Minister

Bangkok Coup Leader Becomes Prime Minister

By Richard S. Ehrlich
22 August, 2014

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Coup leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha's hand-picked,
rubber stamp legislature appointed him unopposed as prime minister on
Thursday (August 21), increasing his vast security, legislative and
economic powers.

Gen. Prayuth, 60, was the only candidate.

He did not show up for the National Legislative Assembly (NLA)
decision, which was endorsed by 191 of the contrived assembly's 197
members in 15 minutes.

No one dissented. Three abstained and three were absent.

Old-fashioned, conservative, testy, and staunchly royalist, Gen.
Prayuth meanwhile was visiting troops outside Bangkok.

Gen. Prayuth now holds three titles simultaneously: prime minister,
army chief, and chairman of the junta's National Council for Peace and
Order.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 86 and hospitalized, was expected to soon
formally endorse Gen. Prayuth's selection as Thailand's 29th prime
minister.

The U.S. Embassy in Bangkok said it hopes Gen. Prayuth's move "leads
to a freely and fairly elected civilian government."

The regime needs to "end restrictions on free speech and assembly, as
well as to lift martial law and press restrictions," the embassy's
statement said, according to Washington's Voice of America news
agency.

Thailand is a major non-NATO U.S. treaty ally.

The U.S., European Union, Australia and other nations criticized the
coup and invoked some penalties, including the Pentagon which
cancelled some military assistance.

China and several Southeast Asian nations turned a blind eye to Gen.
Prayuth's destruction of the elected government, and are engaging in
business as usual with Bangkok.

The general led a bloodless military coup on May 22, toppling elected
prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Gen. Prayuth was frustrated after participating in a 2006 coup which
ousted her brother, elected prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Mr. Thaksin is immensely popular and his candidates repeatedly win at the polls.

He remains a fugitive abroad, dodging a two-year prison sentence for
abuse of power.

Mrs. Yingluck is in Bangkok facing allegations of negligence during
her administration.

Three weeks ago, Gen. Prayuth's junta created the NLA with a majority
of serving and retired military and police officers, plus civilian
collaborators.

Gen. Prayuth is scheduled to retire from the army in September, but it
was unclear if he would do so.

That would necessitate Gen. Prayuth ensuring the loyalty of his
successor as army chief, and other top military officers, and satisfy
various military factions in upcoming military promotions.

"As army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, and other armed forces leaders,
approach their scheduled retirement on Sept. 30, they need to be sure
the transfer of military power goes smoothly, and that their
successors will not stage a counter-coup against them," the Bangkok
Post reported on Aug. 13

As prime minister, he could also remain in charge of the junta even if
he is no longer army chief.

He could then try to gain legitimacy by convincing the international
community that he was "elected" by a legislature.

Gen. Prayuth played a major role in the army's crushing of a
nine-week, pro-democracy insurrection in Bangkok in 2010, which left
more than 90 people dead, mostly civilians.

After the May coup, he arranged amnesty for himself and his junta for
any act they committed before, during and after the putsch.

He cancelled the constitution, banned elections and political parties,
enforced harsh decrees against free speech, and banned political
meetings of five people or more.

The junta detained hundreds of critics, and released most of them
after they agreed to stop their anti-coup activity.

Gen. Prayuth declared military courts will put civilians on trial if
they oppose the junta, and is overseeing efforts to try and extradite
Thais who fled abroad to England, Japan and elsewhere.

The junta has made influential decisions about Thailand's
multi-billion-dollar national budget, investment contracts, subsidies,
infrastructure projects and other aspects of this modernizing,
capitalist economy.

Each Friday, Gen. Prayuth appears on nationwide TV, lecturing how he
is "returning happiness" to Thailand.

Billboards, events, festivals, local media and other public venues
hype the word "Happiness," hammering his slogan home.

Gen. Prayuth draws support from factions among the military,
royalists, wealthy business leaders, Bangkok's middle class and
others.

They hope he will permanently prevent any election which brings Mr.
Thaksin, Mrs. Yingluck, or their political allies back to power.

The rich, powerful siblings have followers among some police, royal
circles, and top businesses.

Their candidates repeatedly won elections by rallying Thailand's
majority rural and lower-classes and other voters.

Their "new money" backers successfully used elections to challenge
Bangkok's "old money" feudalistic hierarchy, which is not popular
enough to win at the polls.

***

Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco,
California, reporting news from Asia since 1978, and recipient of
Columbia University's Foreign Correspondent's Award. He is a co-author
of three non-fiction books about Thailand, including "Hello My Big Big
Honey!" Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing
Interviews; 60 Stories of Royal Lineage; and Chronicle of Thailand:
Headline News Since 1946. Mr. Ehrlich also contributed to the final
chapter, "Ceremonies and Regalia," in a new book titled King Bhumibol
Adulyadej, A Life's Work: Thailand's Monarchy in Perspective.

His websites are

http://asia-correspondent.tumblr.com

http://www.flickr.com/photos/animists/sets

https://gumroad.com/l/RHwa

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