BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand’s junta chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha called on Thursday for national unity and thanked members of parliament after they voted him in as a civilian prime minister, five years after he seized power in a military coup.
Prayuth easily defeated Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, a charismatic political newcomer, by 500-244 votes in a combined ballot by both houses of parliament, one of which was entirely appointed in a process controlled by the junta.
The late Wednesday vote followed a general election on March 24, the first since Prayuth’s 2014 coup, when he ousted an elected government and ushered in a phase of strict military rule.
The opposition Democratic Front of seven parties that voted for Thanathorn says the electoral system was designed to extend and legitimize military domination of civilian government.
The newly endorsed prime minister wanted all Thais to join hands with him to take the country forward, a government spokesman said.
He would now “do his best for the nation, religion, monarchy, and the people”, said the spokesman, Lieutenant General Werachon Sukondhapatipak.
Prayuth will lead an unwieldy 19-party coalition government that has a slim majority in the lower House of Representatives, but could be vulnerable to defections and infighting.
Some Thais were unhappy by the Wednesday day vote with hashtag #RIPTHAILAND and #NotMyPM trending on Thai twitter in the aftermath of Prayuth’s confirmation.
“I was disappointed because I’m part of a new generation and I hope that the country could move forward to be better than it is now,” Suchanya Boonchu, 19, told Reuters.
Others say Prayuth’s victory was well deserved because he brought stability after years of partisan turmoil stemming from confrontation between the military-royalist establishment and loyalists of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
“I am happy because I have always favored him,” said Wilai Pomarrin, 55, who sells newspapers in Bangkok.
“Judging from the past five years, he has the situation under control,” she said.
Opposition lawmakers argued for hours on Wednesday that Prayuth was unfit for office.
Thanathorn told reporters outside parliament after the vote that his party would continue to work to end military dominance.
“We did not lose. But because of the rules we have been robbed of victory,” he said.
“This election is one battle, and I believe the people will still call for freedom and justice,” Thanathorn said.
After the preliminary results of the March election, the Democratic Front projected that it had won a majority in the House.
However, the Election Commission later announced a change in a seat-allocation formula that gave 10 small parties one seat each, mostly at the expense of Thanathorn’s Future Forward Party. The 10 small parties joined Prayuth’s alliance.
The Palang Pracharat Party thanked lawmakers for the vote that endorsed Prayuth as prime minister and urged the Democratic Front to work constructively as the opposition in parliament.
“The people are waiting for the new government to solve their problems so we have to quickly form the cabinet,” party spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana told reporters.
“The seven parties that voted for Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit should prepare to work as the opposition to check the government and fight in parliament rather than engage in verbal attack on General Prayuth so politics can become more constructive like the people want,” he said.
Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat, Panarat Thepgumpanat, Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by Kay Johnson and Robert Birsel