BANGKOK • Thailand's junta leader Prayut Chan-o-cha has said he may appoint his brother as the next army chief, one of the most powerful jobs in the coup-prone kingdom.
General Prayut, who is now prime minister, was the army chief in May last year when he seized power from an elected government which opponents had decried as corrupt and nepotistic.
He defended the decision to consider his sibling Preecha Chan-o-cha, currently serving as an assistant army chief, for the top job. The defence ministry is shortly due to submit its recommended candidate for the job. General Preecha and the other assistant army chief, Lieutenant-General Teerachai Nakvanich, are the only two applicants.
"Why is it a problem that he is my younger brother?" Gen Prayut told reporters in Bangkok on Tuesday, when asked about the possibility of his sibling winning the role.
The position is pivotal in a country where the army plays a key political role - Thailand has seen long stretches of military rule with 19 successful or attempted coups since 1932.
Why would his appointment be damaging? He's never asked me for any favours. He's worked his way up himself.
GEN PRAYUT, on the possibility of his brother becoming the army chief
"Why would his appointment be damaging?" Gen Prayut said in his trademark rhetorical style.
"He's never asked me for any favours. He's worked his way up himself," added the Premier, dismissing speculation of a counter-coup against Gen Preecha's appointment. "I don't fear a counter-coup. I am happy to hand over power," he said.
An announcement on the new army chief is expected before the end of next month, when current leader Udomdej Sitabutr is due to retire.
The coup ended months of often-violent protests in Bangkok against the former government of Yingluck Shinawatra and brought with it a flurry of curbs on civil liberties, including a ban on political assembly and criticism of junta rule.
Gen Prayut has said the coup was necessary to restore order and to curb corruption and cronyism - labels attached to former governments led by or linked to the Shinawatra family.