With his election victory secured, Prayuth Chan-o-cha will soon take the oath again as Thailand’s prime minister but without some weapons of junta rule that he instituted after leading a 2014 coup overthrowing the nation’s last democratic leader.
A day after a joint session of parliament voted Prayuth in as PM, his spokesman promised that the ex-army general would do his best to serve the nation, its people and its different religious groups, while the junta chief himself limited his post-victory comments to six words.
“Thank you. Everything is the same,” Prayuth told reporters on Thursday.
On Wednesday, he received 500 of 750 possible votes for prime minister from lawmakers after a marathon joint session of parliament, easily surpassing the minimum of 376 votes needed to earn the right to form a new government.
“The prime minister stressed that the votes from the house representatives gave him the lead to begin with. And when combined with senators, it added up to 500, in line with the rules,” spokesman Lt. Gen. Weerachon Sukhonthapatipak said in a press release.
Only one other candidate, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, who represented a coalition of pro-democracy parties, received votes for prime minister.
Thanathorn, the 40-year-old leader of the Future Forward Party, was suspended last month from the parliamentary seat he won in the March 24 general election, pending a court’s decision on a complaint that he had violated election law by holding shares in a media company. Thanathorn has denied the allegations and described them as politically motivated.
On Thursday, he posted a message on Twitter reiterating his call for Thailand to move toward democracy.
“The dictators could not forever stand the wind of change. People are calling for justice for the next generation. Don’t be desperate. Let’s join together to recreate constructive politics and democracy,” Thanathorn tweeted.
Now that parliament has elected Prayuth prime minister, House Speaker Chuan Leekpai will present Prayuth’s name to King Maha Vajiralongkorn for his approval.
Once given, Prayuth will form his government, selecting members of his cabinet. Analysts expect the government to be in place before the end of June.
“In the meantime, [the new government] should draft its proposal for governing so when the cabinet is royally endorsed, it can proceed before the swearing-in within 15 days,” Wissanu Kreau-ngam, a deputy prime minister, told Thai media.
With those moves comes the expected dissolution of the junta, officially known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). It formed following the overthrow of democratically elected Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in May 2014.
Yingluck is the younger sister of Thaksin Shinawatra, the leader of the opposition Pheu Thai party who also lives in exile and was deposed by the military in a 2006 coup. Until this year’s general election, his party had won every election since 2001.
As of Thursday, Thaksin had not issued any statements about Prayuth’s election, which came more than two months after polls that the opposition had criticized as unfair and skewed in favor of a pro-junta party.
Earlier in the day, a Thai court sentenced Thaksin in absentia to two years in prison over a lottery program that he implemented while he served as prime minister, the Associated Press reported.
‘He will be unearthed’
Upon being sworn into office, Prayuth is expected to lose Article 44, which was adopted as part of the 2014 interim constitution that brought his military government to power and gave him absolute authority to give orders he deemed necessary for the good of the country without seeking input from others, such as clamping down on free speech and making arrests without warrants.
In Bangkok on Thursday, a Bangkok taxi driver questioned whether Prayuth would be able to function without the NCPO.
“Now he doesn’t have draconian Article 44 to protect himself. He will be unearthed and I will see how he can answer. He won’t last long. He will have a meltdown in the parliament,” Chanthorn Chankhun told BenarNews.
On Tuesday before the vote for prime minister, Human Rights Watch (HRW) challenged the government to investigate the assaults of three junta critics who were attacked since May.
“Thailand’s friends should not let the recent elections become an excuse for ignoring the deteriorating rights situation in the country,” HRW Asia Director Brad Adams said. “Thailand needs a vibrant human rights community more than ever, and concerned governments should be clear to the Thai leadership that real action needs to be taken to end the attacks on activists.”
Now, Prayuth must work with the 500-member lower house of parliament to establish new laws. The 250-member senate, which gave Prayuth a huge advantage in his election as prime minister because its members were appointed by the junta, will not have a role in the lawmaking process.
“I’m glad Lung Tu is prime minister for another time because at the moment there is no one as good as him. I have trust in his determination, righteousness and honesty,” said a women who identified herself as Amporn, referring to Prayuth by a nickname.
Leading up to the vote, the Palang Pracharat Party (PPP), which supported Prayuth even though he did not run for parliament, formed a coalition with 18 other parties to secure his election.
A major addition, the Democrat Party agreed to join the coalition in exchange for cabinet positions including agriculture, according to media reports. One of its former leaders, ex-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, quit the party before resigning from parliament on Wednesday because he refused to vote for Prayuth.
Asia Times reported that the Bhumjaithai Party also teamed up with PPP after being assured it would have a lead role in the public health portfolio to push for medical marijuana legalization.
Analysts raised concerns that the parties pushing for their own pet projects could lead the coalition into competing policy directions which could harm the government, Asia Times reported.
Reactions from the south
Meanwhile, in Thailand’s heavily militarized southern border region, people said they hoped to see more of the prime minister who only traveled to the region twice since seizing power in May 2014.
They said they wanted the new government to bring improvements to the Deep South, a mainly Muslim and Malay-speaking region been plagued by insurgency that has led to the deaths of about 7,000 people since 2004.
“We wanted a democratic prime minister, but we get a dictator, well, we need to accept it,” Napa Jamjai, a resident of Pattani province, told BenarNews. “We hope he fix the troubles and bring peace to Deep South.”
Nimu Makaje, a cleric in nearby Yala province, called on Prayuth to visit the region.
“In Deep South people’s views, the prime minister must look far and wide for first-hand accounts to solve the problems regarding the economy and job creation,” he told BenarNews.
Mariyam Ahmad in Pattani, Thailand, and Nontarat Phaicharoen in Bangkok contributed to this report.