Originally published on Siam Voices on August 21, 2014 UPDATE: Thailand's hand-picked parliament appointed junta and military chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha as the new prime minister of Thailand Thursday morning in a unanimous vote. There was little doubt about the outcome of today's vote. Prayuth is due to retire from the armed forces next month and the change appears aimed in part at ensuring the military maintains its grip on power as it implements major political reforms in the months or possibly years ahead.
Thailand's National Legislative Assembly (NLA) is expected to appoint army chief and junta leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha as the next prime minister on Thursday morning. And there's a very high degree of certainty there will be no opposition. Here's why:
Earlier this week on Monday, the NLA passed the 2015 draft budget - which allocates a large chunk of its 2.58 trillion baht (US$81.08bn) to education and at the same time increasing military spending yet again (read our infographic break down here).
What was significantly telling was not only that 183 lawmakers voted for the budget and only three abstained (while 11 others apparently failed to show up), but the whole entire process before the actual vote:
Of the 197 members in the assembly, only 17 reserved their right to speak on the budget bill in the first reading on Monday - and none of the 17 hailed from the military. As for the so-called debate, all the NLA members did was to praise or applaud the junta or express their gratitude to the paramount leader for choosing them to sit in this honourable post.
It is not true that Thai military officers do not like speaking in public, especially since junta chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha spent more than an hour proposing the bill and concluding his speech.
"Rubber-stamp NLA could be waste of time and money", The Nation, August 20, 2014
It would have been both ambitious and foolish to assume that the NLA would be any kind of a legitimate legislative government body, but the utter lack of debate and high degree of kowtowing by the junta-appointed legislature further underlines that the assembly is an unnecessary House full of yes-men.
A 'yes' vote this morning seems a foregone conclusion:
The first step to be taken in the selection process Thursday is for NLA members to nominate a candidate or more for prime minister. (...)
If there is only one candidate, the NLA members will be called by their names in a roll-call to verbally say whether they agree with the nomination. (...)
The winning candidate must get more than half or 99 votes from the 197 NLA members.
"NLA to vote for PM by roll-call", Bangkok Post, August 20, 2014
While the role-call procedure isn't new during a PM selection, it is highly likely that there will be a rare unanimous vote in a Thai parliament.
Speaking of rare, on Monday junta leader, showed up wearing a business suit instead of an army uniform during his long, rapid-fire address to the NLA, in which he said:
"Thai people are capable. Many of them are nearly clever but others are not so smart. We need to help each other," he said. "Does anyone have any problems? Does anyone disapprove [of the bill]?"
"NLA session ran like well-oiled Army machine", The Nation, August 19, 2014
We all know by now that nobody disapproved, to which Prayuth quipped:
"Nobody had any problems. Nobody disagreed," Prayuth said.
"NCPO aims to avoid debt", The Nation, August 19, 2014
According to a NLA spokesman, Gen Prayuth actually doesn't have to give a speech or even show up at the assembly during his endorsement for prime minister (UPDATE: He actually will not be present at the NLA), as the 197 members will say 'yes' to his name one by one (with the possible exception of the assembly president and his two deputies).
In April 2011, a column in The Nation described Prayuth as somebody taking on too many roles, thus in the words of the author wearing too many hats:
Here are just some of the hats that Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha has put on over the past few weeks: (…)
- That of a not-so-convincing denier of coup rumours: Prayuth can never be convincing on this subject because of the role he played in the 2006 coup that ousted Thaksin Shinawatra. How can he, who was involved in a coup then be denying the threat now?
- That of an adviser to all Thai voters: “Vote to protect monarchy” was the instruction from Prayuth that this newspaper carried on its front page last week. He was also quoted as saying that a high turnout was the key to safeguarding the monarchy and democracy. But what if the majority of Thai voters vote for the “wrong” party? Will there be another military coup? (...) Surely, he can’t be serious.
- That of chief censor and promoter of the lese majeste law: Prayuth has ordered the Information and Communication Technology Ministry to block more websites and has told his soldiers to file lese majeste charges against red-shirt leaders for what they allegedly said during the April 10 rally. This was even before the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) and police could make a move.
These are just some of the many hats that Prayuth has enjoyed wearing recently, though one can’t help but wonder if they really fit an Army chief.
“An army chief who dons too many hats“, The Nation, April 20, 2011 (hyperlinks inserted by me)
Fast-forward three and a half years and a military coup later, General Prayuth today is not only wearing the proverbial hats of army chief (as he's reaching retirement next month), of the junta leader and quite possibly the hat of Thailand's prime minister No. 29.
And should by some oddity somebody else become prime minister today and Prayuth stays on 'only' as army chief and junta leader, he will still have his hands firmly on the rudder...
"Don't worry who will be prime minister or cabinet members. Whoever they are, we can control them and ensure they can work,'' Gen Prayuth said.
"NLA waves through budget", Bangkok Post, August 19, 2014