By KAWEEWIT KAEWJINDA and PITCHA DANGPRASITH Associated Press
BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand’s Parliament elected 2014 coup leader Prayuth Chan-ocha as prime minister in a vote Wednesday that helps ensure the military’s sustained dominance of politics since the country became a constitutional monarchy nearly nine decades ago.
The military-backed party that nominated Prayuth won the second-highest number of seats in the House of Representatives in a general election in March. But his selection was virtually assured because the prime minister is chosen in a joint vote of the 500-seat House and the 250-seat Senate, whose members were appointed by the junta Prayuth leads. Two House seats were vacant due to a suspension and resignation.
Prayuth was elected to serve a second term by a vote of 500 to 244 for his opponent, Future Forward party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit. Prayuth, a former army commander, was the candidate of the military-backed Palang Pracharath party, which holds 116 House seats, as well as lawmakers from smaller parties. Prayuth’s appointment becomes official when it is endorsed by King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
“The people are still calling for liberties. The people are still calling for justice,” Thanathorn said after the vote. “This is not the time to lose hope. Hope is still on our side. Time is still on our side. I want to thank all 244 people who love democracy for voting for me.”
Prayuth made no immediate public comment on the vote.
Prayuth did not run for office in the March election — the constitution enacted under the junta he headed does not require that the prime minister come from Parliament. Laws passed under his government handicapped established political parties, raising concerns the election was not held on a level playing field. Critics also questioned the fairness of the Election Commission, alleging that rules were bent after the election to benefit Palang Pracharath.
The new election laws were aimed especially at the Pheu Thai party, which headed the government ousted by the 2014 coup and won the most House seats in March.
Pheu Thai is associated with former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was removed by a 2006 coup and lives in exile to avoid serving a prison term on a conflict of interest conviction he decries as politically motivated.
The populist policies of Thaksin won him enormous support at the polls but also threatened the influence of traditional power holders, including the military.