Thai Coup Leader Prayuth Cements Power With Hand-Picked Assembly

Thai junta leader Prayuth Chan-Ocha selected a 200-member National Legislative Assembly to act as the nation’s parliament before possible future elections, while maintaining absolute authority over the country.

The assembly, endorsed yesterday by King Bhumibol Adulyadej, will meet for the first time on Aug. 7, according to a statement in the Royal Gazette. The members, more than half of them military personnel, are tasked with choosing a prime minister and cabinet ministers, under an interim constitution introduced last week that gives Prayuth power to take any action he deems necessary without fear of prosecution.

“This is little more than a puppet NLA,” said Kevin Hewison, director of the Asia Research Centre at Murdoch University in Perth. “It is selected by the military junta to reflect its views and do its work. It is in no way independent and I expect that it will diligently reflect the military junta’s positions and desires.”

Since seizing power on May 22 after months of street demonstrations against the elected government, the military has banned protests and criticism of the coup. Hundreds of activists, academics, politicians and journalists were summoned and temporarily detained in the weeks following the putsch. The junta has said a new election could be held as early as late 2015, provided the nation’s almost decade-long political divide has been healed.

Military Dominated

Almost all the new assembly members are men and more than half come from the military, including Prayuth’s brother Preecha Chan-Ocha, a regional army commander, and Songkitti Jaggabatara, a former defense forces chief. More than 80 are civil servants or from the business community and the remainder from the police force, including former police chief Patcharawat Wongsuwan, whose brother took part in a 2006 coup that ousted then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Prayuth selected Prasert Bunsumpun, former president of state oil company PTT Pcl, and TMB Bank Pcl Chief Executive Officer Boontuck Wungcharoen among the civilian representatives in parliament. Other appointees include Klanarong Chanthick, a former member of the anti-corruption agency, Arkhom Termpittayapaisith, the head of the government’s economic forecasting unit, and Narongchai Akrasanee, an adviser to the junta and a member of the Bank of Thailand’s rate-setting committee.

“The non-military appointees are servants of the military or reflect the views of the anti-Thaksin camp,” Hewison said. “In other words, they may not be military, but they think like the military.”

Tycoon Thaksin

Thaksin is a former telecommunications tycoon who used his wealth to set up a political machine that has won every national election since 2001, largely on support from rural voters drawn to his populist policies. His dominance earned him enemies among the nation’s elite of army officers, civil servants and executives centered in Bangkok who extol the monarchy.

Since taking power, the junta has removed government officials seen as close to Thaksin. It has also tried to stimulate the economy by approving an infrastructure investment plan that will include the construction of new railways, mass transit systems in Bangkok and nationwide highways. The economy, which shrank in the first quarter, may expand 5 percent in 2015 from about 2 percent this year on higher spending and a rebound in exports and tourism, the finance ministry said this week.

The baht appreciated 1 percent in July, adding to June’s 1.2 percent gain, and traded at 32.269 per dollar as of 11:50 a.m. in Bangkok, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. It reached an eight-month high of 31.74 on July 23.

Interim Charter

People who have held positions with political parties in the past three years were ineligible for positions in the legislature, according to the interim constitution.

The interim charter reflects the demands of a protest group led by former opposition lawmaker Suthep Thaugsuban that staged a monthslong street campaign to oust the administration of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister. Suthep had called for the military to intervene, and said he wanted to appoint a reform council to wipe out the influence of the Shinawatras, who they accuse of corruption and crony capitalism. Thaksin lives abroad to avoid jail for a graft conviction he says was politically motivated.

The 48-article constitution, which replaces the one annulled by Prayuth after the coup, also calls for the formation of a 250-member reform committee that will need to approve a permanent constitution to be written by a 36-strong drafting committee before elections can be held. Prayuth said on June 27 that charter will be drafted by July 2015 and an election could be held three months after its promulgation.