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Thais welcome new PM but some doubts remain

While many Thais remain confident in General Prayuth's ability to move Thailand forward, the army chief's near unanimous election gives credence to criticism that the coup junta is tightening its control of the nation.

BANGKOK: Without a single vote against him, Prayuth Chan-ocha on Thursday (Aug 21) became the 29th Prime Minister of Thailand following a vote by the National Legislative Assembly, just three months after he seized power in a bloodless coup.

The open voting was broadcast live on Thai television with 191 members voting for General Prayuth to take up the post. Only three members abstained from voting. This was the second time the National Legislative Assembly has made an almost unanimous decision and will give credence to criticisms that it is but a rubber stamp parliament for the military government.

"This time the coup makers have learned from 2006,” said Dr Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University. “They see that the 2006 coup was a half-baked coup. They lost control. So this time they want to concentrate power among themselves. They want to maintain control, all through to the election and perhaps even beyond."

Now that formalities are over, Thailand will be looking to see if there will be a change in leadership styles between General Prayuth, often seen as stern and reclusive, and Prime Minister Prayuth, seeking to be accountable for his decisions.

Academics say the changes may be superficial.

"With the Coup Council, we are governed by military decrees. With the interim government, with a mixture of civilian and military ministers in cabinet, we will be governed by a government. But that government, still, would be dominated by the NCPO, the coup junta,” said Dr Pongsidhirak.

Despite the intricate layers of the country's new-look politics, sentiment on the streets is positive and many remain confident in General Prayuth's ability to move Thailand forward.

"Even though he is from the military, the fact that he is a soldier has allowed the situation in Thailand to calm down and become peaceful once again. I think this is good," said Duangjun Potigamon, a street vendor.

"I think there is order now, soldiers have discipline. I think it's positive. I think most would agree that is a good thing," added Kaneung Naepwijit, a motorcycle taxi driver.

General Prayuth is scheduled to retire from his post as head of the army next month; making way for a new army chief and giving him more credibility as a civilian leader. The second phase of the military's road map for Thailand is well underway. The focus will now be on completing national reform and preparing for a general election, possibly next year. 

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