Image: Interim Thai Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont
Reuters file
Surayud Chulanont, a former Thai army commander, speaks in Bangkok in an August 2003 file photo.
updated 9/28/2006 10:26:25 PM ET 2006-09-29T02:26:25

Surayud Chulanont, a former army commander and a close adviser to Thailand’s powerful monarch, has been chosen as the country’s interim prime minister, the auditor general said Thursday night.

“Yes, definitely, Gen. Surayud is the prime minister. He is the suitable person,” Auditor General Jaruvan Maintaka told reporters. Her comments were later carried on an official government Web site.

The appointment is expected to be officially announced this weekend or Monday after it receives approval from King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Surayud, a highly regarded 62-year-old retired officer, was selected by the country’s ruling military council which seized power from Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra Sept. 19 and vowed to name a civilian prime minister within two weeks.

Akara Thiroj, a spokesman for the council, said an interim constitution has already been finalized and sent to the Royal Palace. He hoped the constitution could be announced Saturday or Sunday and followed by the formal announcement of the prime minister on the weekend or Monday.

“The media seems to know more than I do. Every newspaper put his name on the front page,” Akara said when asked who the new prime minister would be. All Friday morning Bangkok newspapers carried headlines that Surayud would probably head the new government.

Retired general was seen as front-runner
Chulanont was widely considered the favorite to be named prime minister. Another much-touted possibility was former World Trade Organization chief Supachai Panitchpakdi, who now heads the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development, or UNCTAD.

Earlier Thursday, the United States announced it was suspending $24 million in assistance to Thailand. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said U.S. financing of U.S. military sales to Thailand is being cut off along with training for Thai military personnel.

“The United States continues to urge a rapid return to democratic rule and early elections in Thailand,” he said.

Washington, like other Western governments and human rights organizations, has decried the coup as a setback to democracy, while the Thai military has called it necessary to avert political violence.

Draft constitution questioned
The ruling military council has said the interim prime minister will serve until an election is held in October 2007.

The military council has also given itself the authority to remove the incoming government’s prime minister and Cabinet members, according to a draft of a temporary constitution to be unveiled this weekend, one of the drafters said.

Legal experts have criticized the new constitution’s draft text, obtained by local media, saying it shows that the coup leaders do not intend to completely relinquish power.

The coup leaders have said their temporary constitution could be presented to the king for approval on Saturday.

A draft text of the constitution that appeared in newspapers was confirmed by Meechai Ruchupan, a former Senate speaker who had a major role in writing the temporary charter. He was one of about a dozen people on a drafting committee selected by the military rulers.

Once the temporary constitution is in effect, the ruling council — which calls itself the Council for Democratic Reform — will be renamed the National Security Council and will advise the government on security matters, military leaders have said.

Broad powers sought
The draft text gives the National Security Council the right to call Cabinet meetings to “resolve administrative problems,” and lets the council “remove the prime minister” and Cabinet members.

It empowers the National Security Council to select the speaker of the National Assembly and gives them the final say on the 100-member drafting committee that will write the next constitution.

Somchai Preechasilapakul, dean of Chiang Mai University’s law faculty, said the constitution “will not be useful for society at all” if the final text resembles the draft.

“The process of drafting a constitution should allow people in various sectors to take part, but the fact that the (military rulers) still control the process does not provide a conducive atmosphere for that to happen,” Somchai said.

He said the coup leaders “do not disappear, but just transform into the National Security Council.”

The draft also includes an article that grants “complete immunity” to the coup leaders for overthrowing the government.

The military has been struggling to portray the coup as necessary amid international criticism.

It has promised to hand over power to a civilian regime by Oct. 4, and to hold a general election by October 2007.

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