Thai army chief's dilemma: PM or not?

Thai army chief's dilemma: PM or not?
In this photograph received from the Royal Bureau and taken on July 22, 2014, Army Chief General Prayut Chan-O-Cha (L) who led the coup in Thailand recieves the interim constitution from King Bhumibol Adulyadej (R) at the palace in Hua Hin.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha, the top candidate to become Thailand's next prime minister, faces a difficult decision on whether he should concurrently serve as head of both the incoming government and the military junta.

Prayuth will have to weigh carefully his strengths and weaknesses, and brace himself for the massive pressure and headaches that will come with the PM's post if he opts to go ahead.

His colleagues in the ruling National Council for Peace and Order are concerned that he may be unable to handle the pressure well. Air Chief Marshal Prajin Juntong, a deputy of the NCPO and Air Force chief, has emerged as another possible prime minister. Appointing Prajin could take the pressure off Prayuth, a source said.

Whether the NCPO chief will decide to double as the PM will be known this month, after members of the National Legislative Assembly were endorsed by His Majesty the King on Thursday night.

One of urgent tasks of the NLA is to nominate a prime minister for HM the King to endorse. The NLA will convene its first meeting next Thursday, but its first move is to select an NLA president. The prime minister will be selected later this month.

The favoured candidate for the PM's post is still Prayuth, as reports have suggested he does not trust anyone else. The general's subordinates in the NCPO have backed him.

However, a recent internal analysis among members of the NCPO raised concern that if Prayuth takes two posts - head of NCPO and prime minister - at the same time he will face too much more pressure than staying on solely as head of the junta, a source from the NCPO said.

Being prime minister, he would easily face more criticism than being just head of the junta and the Army, the source said, adding that if Prayuth makes a mistake or wrong decision it could affect the NCPO also.

Plus, it is not necessary for Prayuth to take both posts, as the NCPO chief has sweeping "special powers" of his own. Article 44 in the provisional constitution stipulates that if necessary the junta leader, with the "consent of the NCPO", can exercise special powers by issuing an order or stopping any action. This order would be binding for all institutions - legislative, executive or judiciary - and would be considered final and constitutional.

Prajin, who is the junta's head of economic affairs, could be an appropriate choice as PM because the Air Force chief is calm and deliberate, observers say. He is also knowledgeable on economic affairs.

However, others think Prayuth should take the PM's post to avoid "wasting" the power seizure, which is how some view the results of the interim government set up after the military takeover in 2006, as well as earlier coups.

It was not clear if there was any link between the top general's decision and his move yesterday to downsize the NCPO after the interim government is appointed.

Prayuth asked NCPO members yesterday to explain to the public that the council is not a government but that the two bodies will work in parallel, the deputy Army chief and junta secretary General Udomdej Sitabutr said after a meeting to discuss the NCPO's routine work.

"The NCPO will later downsize to fit the operation to the interim government, which is expected to be appointed in September," he said.

Other NCPO members and retired military officers are also tipped to become cabinet members.

NCPO deputy chief and Supreme Commander General Thanasak Patimaprakorn is tipped to become defence minister and deputy PM overseeing security affairs. However, if Prajin is not appointed as prime minister, he is also a candidate for the top defence job.

Retired deputy army chief General Dapong Ratanasuwan, a close friend of Prayuth, is a favoured candidate to be the next interior minister.

NCPO deputy leader and Navy chief Admiral Narong Pipatanasai is likely to become education minister and a deputy prime minister.

NCPO deputy and assistant Army chief General Paiboon Kumchaya, who is in charge of justice and legal work, is tipped to become justice minister.

General Chatchai Sarikanlaya, the NCPO deputy chief for economic affairs, is tipped to become an economic minister in an agriculture or commerce portfolio.

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