Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha and his cabinet were sworn in by the Thai king on Tuesday, marking an official end to five years of military rule although the new government will retain some of the junta’s strict executive orders.
The former army general and 2014 coup leader, along with his 35 ministers, had an audience with King Maha Vajiralongkorn at the Dusit Palace in Bangkok. The cabinet, which includes Prayuth holding the dual posts of prime and defense ministers, was endorsed by the monarch on July 10.
“I, Gen. Prayuth Chan-o-cha, do solemnly declare that I will be loyal to the King and will faithfully perform my duties in the interests of the country and of the people. I will also uphold and observe the Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand in every respect,” the prime minister declared before the king and Queen Suthida.
In response, the king said: “Every task has obstacles. Every mission faces problems. It is normal to take on work and solve problems so the country can be run smoothly according to circumstances.”
Prayuth led a military coup that toppled the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra in 2014. He then installed himself as prime minister and head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), the official name for the junta.
In March, the Palang Pracharat Party, which supported Prayuth and was led by his former and current ministers, won the first parliamentary election under junta rule with support from 18 allies.
On June 5, the 750-member parliament voted by 500 to 244 to appoint Prayuth, who did not run for a seat in parliament, as prime minister. While half of the votes came from the lower house coalition, the other half came from the 250-seat senate whose members were handpicked by the military government and will have no legislative power.
Many orders remain in place
On the eve of the cabinet’s swearing in, Prayuth declared an end to military rule and resigned as head of the NCPO, saying the council would cease to exist following Tuesday’s ceremony, as outlined in the 2017 Constitution.
“Thailand is now fully governed as a democratic country with a constitutional monarchy, possessing a parliament that is elected and a government endorsed by parliament. Several rights and liberties are safeguarded by the constitution in line with the highest international norms and pending problems will be solved through democratic processes without the application of any special powers,” Prayuth said on national television when making the announcement.
Last week, however, Prayuth revoked 66 of about 500 NCPO orders, but maintained two key ones banning political gatherings of more than five people and allowing authorities to search homes without a court warrant, as well as hold suspects for seven days without filing charges.
Also on Monday, an official said the new government would maintain but modify infamous “attitude adjustment” sessions, where Internal Security Operations Command officials summon dissidents and call on them to stop their actions against the government.
Wissanu Krea-ngam, a deputy prime minister for legal affairs, said the ISOC members – police, military and civilians – could issue a summons to question the dissidents but, unlike in the past, would not be able to detain them.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement congratulating Prayuth and the other leaders.
“The United States looks forward to working with the newly formed Royal Thai government to deepen the alliance and partnership between our two nations, building upon over two centuries of friendship between our people,” he said, adding that the U.S. would keep working with the Thai government to "support transparency and good governance."
"The U.S.-Thailand alliance remains strong, and we continue to support Thailand’s role as a regional leader, including its chairmanship of ASEAN this year. Our alliance will grow even stronger as we work together to advance goals common to both countries, such as security, peace, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and throughout the world.”
Meanwhile, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the government did not embody democracy.
“Prayuth is trying to persuade the world he is democratic when his ascension is based on military backing, unelected senators and a rights-abusing constitution, along with politically motivated persecution of political opponents and critics,” HRW Asia Director Brad Adams told BenarNews.
“It’s not surprising, then, that Prayuth is trying to hold on to as many dictatorial, rights-violating NCPO orders as possible because he knows that he will likely need them to hold on to power. His government looks like it will have the shortest political honeymoon of any new Thai government in recent history.”
A farmer from Chiang Mai, on the other hand, said he appreciated the new government because it includes some down-to-earth ministers who could be able to solve problems for the poor.
“I believe someone like the red-neck type deputy agriculture minister will perform better than old-clique bureaucrats or technocrats,” said Don Hommanee, referring to Thammanat Prompao.