ANDREA SEABROOK, host:
From NPR News this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Andrea Seabrook.
The leaders of Thailand's military coup today announced the appointment of a new interim prime minister. He's expected to lead the country until new elections, which they say should happen within the next year. The coup leaders also presented an interim constitution. It would replace the one they scrapped when they seized power from then-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra almost two weeks ago. NPR's Michael Sullivan joins us now from Bangkok.
Michael, what can you tell us about the interim prime minister?
MICHAEL SULLIVAN: Well, his name is Surayud Chulanont. He's a former general, an army general, who spent roughly 40 years in the service. He retired in 2003 and then he became a senior adviser to the king. During his time in the military, he was viewed as being very efficient and very honest, a man who was basically incorruptible, and that's really important here, I think, given all the charges that have been leveled against the former Prime Minister Thaksin. I think the military is keen on showing that they're sincere about wanting to turn thing around here, that they wanted to find a person who had weight politically and had impeccable credentials. And I think they think they've found their man, even though the coup leader, General Sondhi, said today he had to work hard to persuade Surayud to take the job. He'd said in the past he's not interested in politics.
SEABROOK: So what about the Thailand - the Thai people? How is his choice being received?
SULLIVAN: I think he's being seen as a pretty good choice. I mean he is a former general, so that's raising a few eyebrows. And in fact he was in uniform when he was sworn in this afternoon. But as I said, he is very well respected. He's seen as clean. And given that he is a senior advisor to the king, its pretty much a given that he wouldn't have taken the job without the king's blessing. And if the king is seen as being on board, that helps a great deal.
SEABROOK: You know, though the coup was relatively, or was completely bloodless, there was some concern among the international community about it. What's their reaction to this appointment today?
SULLIVAN: I think the reaction to his appointment is generally favorable. I think the new interim constitution that was also announced today, I think that's raising a lot more eyebrows, frankly, because it basically appears that the coup leaders, they're still going to call the shots, even though they say otherwise. When they seized power they said they were going to step aside in two weeks. And in fact it's taken them a little less than that to announce his appointment. But the new constitution, the interim constitution, gives them the power to dismiss him or anybody else they don't like in the next year while a new constitution is written, after which new elections are supposed to be held. So when all's said and done, they may not be out in front anymore, but they'll certainly be around in the background, presumably calling the shots.
SEABROOK: And so what does that mean for the military presence there in Bangkok? I mean does that - are the tanks still out in the streets?
SULLIVAN: Most of the tanks are in fact gone now. Most of the tanks that were around the Government House, most of them are gone now. And the presence here today is a lot less than it was two weeks ago in the days immediately following the coup. I think - I think the military feels pretty confident right now. I think they feel like they're in charge, that the bad news that they thought might follow this, that some Thaksin supporters might rise up and say, hey, we're not on board with this thing, that hasn't happened yet.
So I think the military is feeling pretty good in fact that a lot of the military has been brought back to barracks, sent back to barracks, I think that's an indication that they're feeling pretty confident.
SEABROOK: And what happens next for the civilian side of this government, if there is one?
SULLIVAN: Well, there isn't one yet. And I think we're going to have a new cabinet now that we have a new interim prime minister. He's said to be thinking about appointing a new cabinet this week. We don't know the composition of that cabinet yet and we don't know, again, how much power he's going to have. But I think he's going to have his hands full just trying to get on with the business of keeping the government functioning, overseeing the writing of a new constitution, while at the same time not being seen as the military's guy. And I think that's almost impossible, but you know, we'll have to see.
SEABROOK: And will this new government continue to push on allegations of corruption in the Thaksin Shinawatra government?
SULLIVAN: Absolutely. I mean the coup leaders have been doing that since the day after they took power. They've been pushing forward that agenda. They've been removing or reassigning some in the military seen as being close to the former prime minister. They've been pushing forward with, as you said, the plans to investigate Thaksin and his allies for alleged corruption. And in what I think is a pretty telling move, getting back to what we were talking about earlier, they released four of Thaksin's closest allies today who were detained immediately after the coup. And that release, I think, more than anything else indicates that the military is no longer as worried as it was before about Thaksin loyalists mounting some sort of a challenge.
SEABROOK: All right. NPR's Michael Sullivan in Bangkok. Thanks, Michael.
SULLIVAN: You're welcome.
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