BANGKOK - The Thai general who took power in a coup is a staunch royalist with a penchant for wading ruthlessly into the country's political turmoil - and justifying his actions as a defence of the nation and its revered monarchy.
Stern, pugnacious and known for bluntly stating his opinions, the 60-year-old army chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha was due to retire this September from an office he has held since 2010.
But as he imposed martial law across the kingdom on Tuesday, he hinted at his intention to occupy centre-stage for as long as the nation's political crisis persisted.
The warning took on substance just two days later after talks between the nation's bitter political rivals ended in Prayut declaring a dramatic coup - with all of the parties whisked away to an unknown location in military trucks.
"I was concerned with the situation, and could not let it continue without a solution," Prayut said Thursday shortly before the coup.
"What I am doing in my security capacity - if I upset anyone, I apologise but it is necessary." Prayut, who announced the coup in a televised statement, cited political violence which has seen 28 people killed and hundreds more wounded over nearly seven months of protest.
He had said he would not allow Thailand to become another "Ukraine or Egypt".
Thailand's army has staged 19 successful or attempted coups since 1932 and as army chief Prayut wields enormous political power within the country.
Red Shirt nemesis
The general is seen as a staunch opponent of Thaksin Shinawatra and a scourge of the "Red Shirt" supporters of the self-exiled former telecoms magnate, who was ousted as prime minister by a military coup in 2006 that triggered years of political chaos.
Experts say Prayut will be lauded as a saviour by royalists and Thaksin's establishment enemies.
"From day one, he said 'I'm not an ordinary army chief but an army chief who has a lot to say about politics,'" said Pavin Chachavalpongpun of the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies at Japan's Kyoto University.
Pavin said that while Prayut is "intelligent", he also is more "hardcore" than some of his predecessors.