BANGKOK, Thailand, (AP) -Retired army commander Gen. Surayud Chulanont was sworn in Sunday as interim prime minister following the announcement of a temporary constitution that reserved considerable powers for Thailand’s military coup makers.
The announcement, following his endorsement by the country’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej, was widely expected. The cabinet is expected to be announced later this week.
Surayud, who spent 40 years in the military, is seen as someone who could help stabilize the political situation following the Sept. 19 coup that ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
“Gen. Surayud has been trusted to become a new prime minister,” said coup leader Gen. Sondhi Boonyaratkalin, reading from a royal command. “The king has appointed him to administer the country from now on.”
Sondhi has said the new prime minister and government will run the country, and fresh elections are expected to be held as early as October 2007.
Surayud, 63, accompanied by his wife, stood at attention in a white military uniform alongside six other coup leaders at Government House in the Thai Koo Fa building. A wall-sized portrait of the king was hung on the wall.
During his military career, Surayud earned praise for his deft handling of the sensitive border with embattled Cambodia during the 1980s. Upon his appointment as army commander, he engineered a major restructuring of the military, increasing professionalism and keeping officers out of politics.
“Surayud has many followers. People trust him and he is one of the very few army men who valued democratic principles,” said Surat Horachaikul, a professor at Chulalongkorn University. “He was the best candidate for this job.”
Meanwhile, television stations announced Sunday that the king had endorsed the new constitution, which will replace the 1997 charter that was abolished Sept. 19 when military officers seized power from Thaksin.
Thaksin was abroad at the time of the coup and is now residing in London.
The new rulers say the previous constitution had too many “loopholes” that allowed Thaksin and his cronies to abuse power and engage in widespread corruption.
Under the new interim constitution, the council gave itself the power to remove the incoming provisional government’s prime minister and Cabinet members, approve the selection of a National Assembly speaker, and have final say on a 100-member committee that will write the next constitution.
The interim document also gives “complete immunity” to the coup leaders for overthrowing the government.
The military council “will not interfere in or influence the government since the prime minister is a capable and well-respected man,” Sondhi said earlier.
“We will give him a free hand to run the administration of the country. Only during the transitional period when the Cabinet is not yet formed will the (council) help him in some areas,” he said.
Sondhi also announced that four top members of Thaksin’s government had been released from detention. Deputy Prime Minister Chitchai Wannasathit, Environment Minister Yongyut Tiyapairat, Prime Minister’s Office Minister Newin Chidchob and Thaksin’s top aide, Prommin Lertsuridej, had been held since shortly after the coup.
The new government is expected to press ahead with investigations into alleged corruption by Thaksin and his government.
On Saturday, the council replaced an earlier committee to investigate and freeze assets of the former government with a high-powered 12-member panel and also gave more authority to the National Counter Corruption Commission.