10/24/2006, 00.00
THAILAND
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First meeting of newly-appointed post-coup parliament

Meechai, a close legal advisor to the military and to the king's own top advisor, becomes speaker of the new legislative assembly. His election is a sign of the assembly's lack of independence vis-à-vis the military who will continue to run the country.

Bangkok (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Thailand's new military-appointed parliament met today for the first time since the September 19 coup. But the 242-seat National Legislative Assembly has little power to check the government picked by the military. The elections of the ruling junta's top legal adviser as its speaker is a first sign of the new assembly's weak power.

Meechai Ruchupan, 68, won 70 percent of the vote. 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 Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra last month.

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 comes as little surprise in a chamber all of whose members were appointed by the military. 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," 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.

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

Under the 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.

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