Who is he?
General Thanasak Patimaprakorn has been Thailand’s chief of defense forces, a post previously known as the supreme commander of the Royal Thai Armed Forces, since September 2011. He is charged with overseeing combat readiness and commanding military operations by all three branches of the Thai military. As such Thanasak is nominally at the top of the military chain of command, but in practice remains subordinate to army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha. Thanasak is also a member of the National Council for Peace and Order, the ruling body established by the junta that ousted former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra in May.
Why is he in the news?
Junta leader and newly-minted prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha on September 1 appointed Thanasak deputy prime minister and foreign minister in his new cabinet. He is one of 11 military officers appointed to the 32-member cabinet. This prominence of military officials in government has raised concerns that the planned return to civilian rule could take even longer than the junta originally indicated.
What can we expect from him?
Thanasak is due to retire from his military command at the end of September, but could still have trouble establishing himself in the diplomatic sphere. Some democratic western countries will want to keep him at arms-length. As the new government’s face to the world, it will be his job to convince the ASEAN neighbors and important allies, especially the United States, that the junta is committed to a return to democratic civilian rule. His military pedigree, and the make-up of the new cabinet, could make that task more difficult.
Fortunately for Thanasak, the appointment of career diplomat Don Pramudwinai as deputy foreign minister may offset some of his challenges and smooth his transition.