BANGKOK - Thailand inaugurated a new national assembly dominated by military figures on Thursday, in what the junta has said is a step toward the transition of power back to democratic government.
But for some the muted ceremony, attended by senior military officers in crisp white military uniforms and presided over by Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, was yet another demonstration of the army's tight grip on power after it seized control in May following months of political conflict. "This is a public show of unity by the military. They appear more confident than the last set of coup leaders," Kan Yuenyong, an analyst at the Siam Intelligence Unit, told Reuters.
"The danger is that with this confidence they will look inwards and listen less to public opinion. Long-term we could see more rumblings of discontent because let's not forget there are still many critics of the military." In 2006 the army ousted then-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, known for his populist policies which won him legions of loyal voters among the rural and urban poor.
The country became increasingly divided along political lines after his ouster. On the one side are Thaksin's supporters and on the other are the urban middle class and ultra-nationalists aligned with the royalist establishment.
The junta appointed a National Legislative Assembly (NLA) of 200 people, including military officers and police last week. Three members have since stepped down leaving a 197 member assembly in charge of appointing an interim prime minister in the coming weeks.
The army seized power in May after months of street protests left the country teetering on the brink of more bloodshed after sporadic violence over the months killed at least 30 people. The demonstrations helped to oust Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin's sister.
The NLA is likely to nominate junta chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha, the commander who led the May coup, as the new prime minister, some of its members told Reuters.
A temporary constitution adopted last month laid the framework for a national reform plan rolled out by the junta. The charter gives the military supreme power over political developments at a time when many had hoped for a gradual transition back to civilian rule.
The army has promised a general election by late 2015.
The junta, officially known as the National Council for Peace and Order, has effectively silenced its critics and imposed strict curbs on the media since it took control.
It has detained hundreds of activists, politicians and journalists at unidentified military camps although most have since been released.