After a marathon day of debate, the now-retired army chief secured the 375 votes needed to become premier in a combined ballot by both houses of parliament, one of which was entirely appointed in a process controlled by the junta. Prayuth easily defeated Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, a charismatic political newcomer who was nominated by the opposition Democratic Front of seven parties that want to remove the military from politics.
Prayuth will now 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. Opposition lawmakers for hours argued that Prayuth was unfit for office.
"He (Prayuth) came to power in a coup, then comes in and completely changes the rules and conditions that allows him to stay on and transform himself into a prime minister candidate," said Chonlanan Srikaew of the opposition Pheu Thai party. However, the electoral rules of the 2017 post-coup constitution made it nearly impossible for the opposition to overcome the 250 votes of the Senate, which was appointed by the junta.
And Prayuth's Palang Pracharat party said he deserved to stay in power for bringing an end to repeated paralysing street demonstrations by opponents and supporters of exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in an earlier coup in 2006. "Prayuth has stepped in to solve the conflict...and showed a great deal of leadership. He has been decisive possibly more than other past leaders," said Palang Pracharat lawmaker Koranit Ngamsukonrattana.
The Democratic Front is led by Pheu Thai, which was ousted from power in 2014 and is allied to Thaksin, whose affiliated parties had until this year won every election since 2000. In March, Pheu Thai won the most seats in the 500-seat elected House of Representatives. Prayuth's Palang Pracharat party placed second and Thanathorn's Future Forward Party third.
After the March vote's preliminary results, 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. (Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat, Panarat Thepgumpanat, Panu Wongcha-um Editing by Kay Johnson and Robert Birsel/Mark Heinrich)
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