Thailand's coup leader was elected prime minister yesterday by the kingdom's junta-appointed legislature without a single opposing vote, raising fears of a new era of "strongman" leadership.
Army chief General Prayut Chan-O-Cha, 60, who ousted an elected government in a bloodless takeover on May 22, was the only contender for the premiership.
The move by the top general to take the post, while also remaining junta boss, is seen as cementing the military's control of the politically turbulent nation.
"He has taken all the power so I cannot help but worry that we will enter the period of a strongman," said Gothom Arya, a lecturer at Thailand's Mahidol University.
The junta, formally known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), has ruled out holding new elections before around October 2015, despite international appeals for a return to democracy.
Prayut, who is due to retire as army chief in September, is seen as a staunch opponent of fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, whose overthrow in an earlier coup in 2006 triggered Thailand's long-running political crisis.
Thaksin -- whose sister Yingluck was dismissed as premier in a controversial court ruling just before this year's coup -- fled Thailand in 2008 to avoid prison for a corruption conviction.
The army rulers say they want to reform Thailand to end years of political turbulence and street violence, but critics see the takeover as an attempt to wipe out Thaksin's influence.
Prayut is often described as the architect of an army crackdown on a pro-Thaksin "Red Shirt" rally in Bangkok in 2010 that left dozens dead.
Since seizing power the junta has abrogated the constitution, curtailed civil liberties under martial law and summoned hundreds of opponents, activists and academics for questioning.
"This is not a climate for an election to be held freely and fairly," said Sunai at Human Rights Watch.
"Even after the next election, scheduled for the end of 2015, the NCPO will stay on with overarching power. This is a military rule that gives no hope for democracy to be restored in Thailand," it added.
The United Nations' human rights office on Wednesday warned of "chilling effects" on freedom of expression under the junta, following recent arrests and jail sentences for insulting the monarchy.