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Thai parliament names junta adviser as Speaker

Meechai Ruchupan won 70 per cent of the vote held during the first session of the 242-seat National Legislative Assembly.

india Updated: Oct 24, 2006 13:47 IST

Thailand's military-appointed parliament on Tuesday elected the ruling junta's top legal adviser as its speaker.

Meechai Ruchupan won 70 per cent of the vote held during the first session of the 242-seat National Legislative Assembly, which has little power to check the hand-picked government.

He has twice served as speaker of the senate and is widely seen as a front man for the leaders of the bloodless coup that ousted twice-elected prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra last month.

Considered Thailand's foremost legal expert, 68-year-old Meechai has acted as one of the junta's top advisers since the early hours of the putsch on September 19.

He also has close ties with the top adviser to Thailand's revered king, Prem Tinsulanonda, who is believed to have played a central role in organising the coup.

The choice of speaker came as little surprise in a chamber all of whose members were appointed by the military, and many of whom have links to Prem. It highlights how little independence the assembly is allowed.

"It's clear that the junta was behind the selection. The junta turned deaf ears to the voices of people who oppose Meechai as the assembly's new president, and this will turn people against junta," said Pibhop Dongchai of the Campaign for Popular Democracy pressure group.

"Meechai has a record of service in every government, especially governments formed by dictators," he added.

The Campaign for Popular Democracy was formed by many of the leaders of protests held earlier this year aimed at ousting Thaksin over corruption allegations.

"This is all about stabilising their power with their own people, and not getting any opposition," Michael Nelson, a researcher at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, said of the parliament.

"This is not supposed to be an independent-minded body representing the people at large," he said.

Under a constitution imposed by the military three weeks ago, the assembly will act as a single-chamber parliament for a year but will have no powers to vote on government matters.

It can debate and question government policies, but not censure or impeach anyone in the administration.

That power lies with the junta, whose role was enshrined in their constitution.

This established them as a Council for National Security that has ultimate authority in government.

The junta has promised to hold elections in October 2007, but a government minister last week said that the poll would likely be delayed until December next year.

The coup leaders said they seized power to restore democracy, which they said was undermined by widespread corruption during Thaksin's five years in office.

As well as their election promise, the generals have pledged to draft a new Constitution but most of their actions so far have served to solidify their power and give them broad influence in government.

Meechai is also heading the new council tasked with beginning the Constitution-drafting process.

The generals have tossed out Thailand's 1997 Constitution -- widely hailed as the most democratic charter this country has ever known -- and imposed restrictions on the media and political parties.

They have ruled the country under martial law since the takeover, and have set no date for lifting it because they fear an anti-coup backlash by Thaksin supporters.

The prime minister they appointed, Surayud Chulanont, is a former military chief.

First Published: Oct 24, 2006 13:47 IST