Thailand’s coup leader general Sonthi Boonyaratglin was officially named a deputy prime minister Tuesday October 2, but he denied that his appointment to the cabinet was an attempt to cling to power.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej signed off on Sonthi’s new job just two days after the general retired from the army and resigned as head of Thailand’s junta. “As is appropriate and beneficial to the government’s work, general Sonthi Boonyaratglin is appointed as deputy prime minister as of October 1,” the royal command said.
The announcement came as army-backed Premier Surayud Chulanont’s cabinet was rocked by a growing shares scandal, which recently forced five ministers, including the interior minister, and a top government spokesman to resign.
Surayud, who was installed by Sonthi following last year’s coup ousting prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, said he would take up the interior minister’s job himself. “Sonthi will help me on security issues, which he has been working on for a long time,” Surayud told reporters.
The five ministers and the spokesman stepped down after being accused of breaching shareholding limits imposed by anti-graft laws.
The resignations have sparked worries among investors that elections in December may be delayed, dampening sentiment in the stock market Tuesday October 2. The December 23 elections would be the first polls since the bloodless coup.
Sonthi had announced on Monday that he would become a deputy prime minister and oversee internal security, after he accepted mandatory retirement from the army on Sunday.
In a surprise move, Sonthi also resigned as head of the junta, heightening speculation that he had his eye on the premiership in the elections.
But Sonthi insisted Tuesday October 2 that he was not trying to hang on to power. “Taking up this post at this time should not be seen as me trying to cling to power,” he told reporters before the royal endorsement. “I am accepting this burden to help the government oversee our country. I am not getting into politics,” he said.
Sonthi was the first Muslim to head the army in this Buddhist country. He led the coup that overthrew the twice-elected Thaksin Shinawatra, but promised to restore democracy with the December elections. He said his first priority as deputy prime minister would be cracking down on drug traffickers.