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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2429

Thai King endorses Gen. Surayud Chulanont, a former Army Chief for interim Premiership

Bangkok, 02 October, (Asiantribune.com): Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej yesterday, endorsed the appointment of General Surayud Chulanont who was nominated by the military council for the appointment of interim Prime Minister of Thailand.General Surayud Chulanont dressed in a white military uniform prostrated himself in front of a wall-sized portrait of the King as a sign of respect.General Surayud Chulanont dressed in a white military uniform prostrated himself in front of a wall-sized portrait of the King as a sign of respect.

Privy Councillor and retired Army Chief Gen. Surayud Chulanont was appointed Sunday evening as Thailand's interim Prime Minister by a Royal Command. He replaces deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, ousted on September 19 in a bloodless coup staged by Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin.

The Coup Leader Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin was once an officer under retired Army Chief Gen. Surayud Chulanont, the newly appointed interim Prime Minister of Thailand.

General Surayud, Chulanont dressed in a white military uniform prostrated himself in front of a wall-sized portrait of the King as a sign of respect. He stood alongside the six coup leaders at Government House in the Thai capital during the swearing in ceremony.

Surayud's appointment came after Thai King endorsed the interim charter that replaces the 1997 charter which was abolished on September 19 when the military council, led by Army Commander in Chief Gen Sonthi Bunyaratblin, seized the power from Thaksin Shinawatra, who was the elected Prime Minister for five-and-a-half years until he was deposed when he was away in USA to attend the 61 general session of the UN General Assembly.

Coup Leader General Sonthi earlier reassured the country that the military would not interfere in the work of the new interim prime minister.

"We will not interfere in selection of ministers," he said.
"The new Prime Minister will use his own judgment. The cabinet ministers will be more knowledgeable than us," about running state affairs, he said.

But General Sonthi reaffirmed that the Council for National Security, as the junta are now calling themselves, will help run the country during any transition period.

"As the new prime minister is forming his own government, we will administer the country," he said.

A junta spokesman said the military plans to withdraw tanks and troops from Bangkok by Wednesday, and hand security operations back to the police, under the new interim prime minister.

In the meantime, Soon after the brief swearing-in ceremony, Gen Surayud said he would select his cabinet in the next week and submit the list of names to the King for approval.Prime Minister Gen Surayud Chulanont walks after swearing in as a prime minister on Sunday. Besides him was his wife, Khunying Chitravadee Chulanont.Prime Minister Gen Surayud Chulanont walks after swearing in as a prime minister on Sunday. Besides him was his wife, Khunying Chitravadee Chulanont.

In his first media conference shortly after being appointed as interim leader, the former Army chief said that he agreed to take up the position only to address the nation's urgent problems despite his earlier vow that he would stay out of politics.

"On top of my agenda are the urgent issues--the political problems and the southern violence--which require full cooperation from all sectors of society,"

Gen. Surayud said. "I will pull out all the stops to solve the two pressing issues within one year."

Touching on the economy, the new post-coup premier said he would adhere to the sufficiency economy initiated by King Bhumibol rather than foster the economic growth based on gross domestic product (GDP) as cherished by his predecessor.

"I will focus on the people's happiness rather than GDP figures," he stressed.

Gen Surayud is Thailand's 24th prime minister since the kingdom became a constitutional monarchy in 1932. But perhaps more important he is the first since 1992 who did not win the position in an election.

Profile of Gen Surayud Chulanont: The general who wanted the military out of politics.

Thailand's new interim Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont under the military coup council made his mark as a highly professional army commander. For the past three years he has served the Thai King as a member of the Privy Council.

In 1998, Gen Surayud caused controversy when he became the first commander of the Special Forces ever to attain the rank of army commander-in-chief. He was promoted over the heads of many older generals.

One of the reasons then-Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai picked Gen Surayud was because of the general's outspoken opinion that the 1991 military coup and 1992 Bloody May democracy uprising that the army should never again get involved in government.

Like other respected figures in the past - most recently Anand Panyarachun who served the 1991 coup council as premier - Gen Surayud has taken on the job as prime minister as a patriotic duty rather than through any personal ambition.

In a 1993 interview, he said famously: "It convinced me that the army should never be involved in politics."

Now he finds himself directly involved as the "civilian" front man for the military coup council headed by another Special Forces veteran and current army commander, Gen Sonthi Boonyaratkalin.

He has his work cut out for him. In addition to his own distaste for military government, he faces a diplomatic corps almost entirely opposed to the coup, and a Council for National Security (the new name of the military junta) which has both the power and the constitution to fire him if they don't like his actions.

Born in Bangkok 63 years ago, Gen Surayud was raised in the capital and attended elite schools including St Gabriel and Suankularb Wittayalai. He was in the first class of the Armed Forces Preparatory Academy, and then graduated from Class 12 of the Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy. He officially began his military service as a junior lieutenant in 1965.

His father, Lt Col Phayom, left the army when Surayud was a boy, and joined the Communist Party of Thailand. As a young officer, Surayud led army forces against his father's CPT cells in northern Thailand.

He told interviewers from Time magazine in 2003 that, to him, his father was a hero. "He taught me how to be a good officer. He taught me how to be a good citizen of this country."

Surayud gained wide experience during his early service, in infantry, artillery and counter-insurgency units. He found his niche in Special Forces, the Thai unit patterned largely after the so-called Green Berets of the United States army.

As the Vietnam war wound down, he became an instructor at the Special Warfare School in Lop Buri province. Then he won an assignment as aide to Gen Prem Tinsulanonda when Gen Prem became army commander and then prime minister in the wake of the disastrous 1976 massacre at Thamassat University and several detested governments.

In 1992, Gen Surayud became commander of the Special Warfare Command, where one of his officers was Sonthi - now the head of the coup council. On May 17, their men took part in trying to quell pro-democracy demonstrations, including in the notorious violence at the Royal Hotel.

He said he deplored the loss of life, and that he never had given orders to shoot. It is a measure of the respect held for Gen Surayud that everyone believed his account of the violence.

But after Black May, Gen Surayud appeared to be in a dead-end, mostly paperwork job. He was plucked from that obscurity by Premier Chuan, and immediately began a campaign against the military mafia, criminals and corrupt men in uniform. Under his command, Thailand took part in its first major peacekeeping operations, and the East Timor mission won wide admiration.

Gen Surayud began a campaign to professionalize the army, slim it down to respond to actual needs rather than keeping numerous generals in jobs. That won him many enemies inside the army, but widened the respect he had earned throughout the country.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra neither liked nor admired Gen Surayud's professionalism, and particularly sought a more compliant army commander so he could implement a business-friendly policy towards Burma.

Gen Saiyud felt and acted differently. He set up heavy defences against Wa drug smugglers supported by the Rangoon government, and fiercely fought incursions by Burmese troops. None of this was popular with Mr Thaksin, who refused Gen Saiyud's request for pay rises for his professionalizing army.

Mr Thaksin effectively fired Gen Saiyud and appointed his cousin Chaiyasit Shinawatra to as army commander in 2003, a disastrous move that many credit as the start of the resurgence of the violence in the South, among other problems - not to mention an apparent proof of critics who charged the Thaksin government with major nepotism.

Gen Surayud served as Supreme Commander, and soon was eased out of even that token position.

After retirement, Gen Surayud won further praise for various conservation and self-reliance projects.

His main work, however, revolved around his appointment to the Privy Council. Gen Surayud maintained a high profile in this prestigious position, clashing more than once with Thaksin proxies when he felt the monarchy had been dragged into politics by the government.

Gen Surayud was named in several news reports on the night of the coup, Sept 19, as the designated prime minister beneath the coup council. What happened after that is unknown, but his name disappeared from such news - only to be revived last week.

His 38-year career in the military earned Gen Surayud a reputation for effectiveness, tact and incorruptibility. He will need all of that and more to get through the next 12 months.

- Asian Tribune -

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