Junta chief seen by many as only person suited for top post in current situation
THREE MONTHS after the military coup, the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) will today vote on who is to become the country’s 29th prime minister – a position that junta chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha is widely tipped to fill. The NLA will today propose Prayuth as the sole candidate for the prime ministership, a source said, adding that he would be voted in unanimously. “We will discuss before the voting session about who will propose Prayuth to the meeting,” the source said. “That person must be a senior military officer.”
In public surveys over the past months, key members of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), leading professional politicians and a former prime minister have voiced their support for Prayuth, saying he is the only person suited to take up the post in the current political environment.
His NCPO deputies who helped him seize power on May 22 – General Paiboon Kumchaya and Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal Prajin Juntong – and many other members of the NLA said they would back his premiership.
Prayuth staged the coup when the country was suffering a deep political rift between the previous elected government under Yingluck Shinawatra and the opposition-backed People’s Democratic Reform Committee led by Suthep Thaugsuban, who became a monk after the coup.
Prayuth will not join the NLA session today, but will attend a military ceremony at the 21st Infantry Regiment of the Queen’s Guard in Chon Buri for commemoration of the regiment’s 64th anniversary.
He began his military career in the regiment and used to be the commander of the unit.
Former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, leader of the Democrat Party, said the May 22 coup was different from the most recent previous coups in 2006 and 1991. The one led by Prayuth was more similar to that of Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat, who served as prime minister after the 1957 coup, he said.
“Both coups have something in common in terms of trying to absolutely control the situation first. So the first phase of this junta’s road map is longer when compared with the Suchinda [Kraprayoon] and Sonthi [Boonyaratglin] coups,” Abhisit told The Nation.
Other coup-makers after Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn, who became prime minister in 1963, did not take the position of PM themselves, but the leader of the latest coup is widely expected to be the next prime minister, he said.
The military coup in May was not welcomed by the international community, notably in Western countries. Abhisit said the international community has its standards on such matters.
“It’s difficult to change their minds. But I think tomorrow the NCPO will choose to be achievement-oriented. They will choose [to follow] the path that will make them succeed,” he said.
Prayuth, who is scheduled to retire as Army chief at the end of next month, is a blunt but determined person, as well as being conservative, according to Abhisit, who worked with him when he was prime minister.
The Democrat leader said he thought Prayuth was, however, a person who listened to other people and who used several channels to get information before finally making a decision by himself.
Somchai Sawaengkarn, secretary to the NLA whip, said he supported Prayuth to become the next PM.
NCPO deputy chief Paiboon said earlier that Prayuth had been virtually performing as prime minister by running the country without any flaws after leading the military coup in May.
The junta chief’s performance has satisfied people, he said.
Air Force chief ACM Prajin, meanwhile, echoed the sentiment, backing Prayuth as the new premier, saying the junta supremo had shown he could run the country competently since the coup.
However, some NCPO officials earlier expressed concern about pressure on the Army chief if he tried to juggle the two key roles as head of the incoming government and the military regime.
Former Asean secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan said that whoever became the next PM must carry out reform in order to achieve national reconciliation. “I hope the new PM will not be obsessed with the position, power and interest of his own associates, otherwise the mission will fail,” Surin added.