BANGKOK - Thailand's coup leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha was appointed prime minister on Thursday by a legislature he hand-picked, giving the army chief a veneer of legitimacy even while the military presses on with efforts to silence its critics.
The army seized power on May 22 in a bloodless coup following six months of sometimes deadly street protests that contributed to the ousting of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, whose populist government was opposed by the Bangkok royalist establishment.
Although Prayuth's appointment paves the way for an interim government to be set up in the coming weeks, power will remain firmly in the junta's hands. The general has said he plans to press ahead with a year of political reforms before a new election that he said will take place by late 2015. "It is designed to give him the power to run the country according to the law. The premier position will give him legal power in the Thai governance system," Gothom Arya, a lecturer in human rights studies at Mahidol University, told Reuters.
The nomination comes as no surprise - the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) that chose Prayuth is largely considered little more than a rubber stamp parliament tasked with enacting sweeping reforms under the army's watch.
The 60-year-old Prayuth will retire as army chief in September but will stay on as head of the junta, formally known as the National Council for Peace and Order. His appointment will need to be endorsed by Thailand's king.
In the weeks leading up to the coup Prayuth denied rumours that the military was planning to take control, but a Reuters report in May revealed the army had a plan ready that ran through various scenarios and how the military should respond.
Yingluck, the sister of self-exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, had already been forced to step down on May 7, after a court found her guilty of abuse of power, but the army said its putsch to remove the remnants of her government two weeks later was necessary to restore order.
Prayuth, who was not present at Thursday's vote in the legislature, has said he will hand over power once a three-phase roadmap of reconciliation, an interim government to oversee reforms and elections is complete.