BANGKOK - Thailand's army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha has consolidated power after the army-appointed National Legislative Assembly (NLA) rubber-stamped his nomination as prime minister.
A total of 191 of the 194 assembly members present picked the 60-year-old as the kingdom's new leader. The remaining three members abstained from voting.
General Prayuth has become the first Thai military officer in over 50 years to launch a coup d'etat and to be appointed as prime minister as well. The last to do that was dictator Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat in 1957.
General Prayuth, who is said to enjoy a challenge, was not at the NLA when the vote was taken; he was celebrating the 64th anniversary of the elite Queen's Guard regiment.
He is part of an elite military clique called Burapha Phayak or "eastern tigers'' which has its roots in the Queen's Guard and has absolute loyalty to the King and Queen.
The 200-seat NLA consists of establishment loyalists handpicked by the regime which seized power on May 22. More than half are serving or retired military and police officers.
Three withdrew from the assembly, leaving the NLA with 197 members, of which 194 attended the session on Thursday morning.
General Prayuth's name was the only one nominated, and a simple majority was needed to vote him to office. The vote - like a similar vote for the junta's budget on Monday - was a formality. There was no debate.
The prime minister will name a Cabinet by the end of the month or in early September, and set up a National Reform Council which will propose sweeping reforms for the NLA to endorse. A committee will also be set up to draft a new constitution - of which Thailand has had 19 in 82 years.
The General has said an election will be held late next year, but analysts remain skeptical, noting that it could easily be delayed.
Analysts also expect the reforms to severely reduce the role and powers of civilian political parties, and return to a fully appointed upper house.
While holding absolute power gives the general an advantage in pushing his reform agenda - and ruthlessly dismantling former premier Thaksin Shinawatra's network - it also brings liabilities because he will be blamed for mistakes and failures.
''It's not going to be rosy'' cautioned Chulalongkorn University professor of political science Panitan Wattanayagorn. ''Thai society is very dynamic, complex and full of competing forces.''
The General is due to retire from the army at the end of September. Apart from being the prime minister, he will remain head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). As such, he will still wield broad and absolute power.
The junta, in an interim constitution drawn up last month, gave itself immunity for the coup d'etat, and also granted wide powers for the head of the NCPO.
Article 44 gives the NCPO chief authority to "order, suspend or do any actions he sees necessary for the benefits of the reforms, the unity and reconciliation of people in the country, or to prevent, suspend or suppress any actions that will destroy the peace and order, the national security and monarchy, the country's economy or the country's governance.''