BANGKOK, Thailand – Thailand's military rulers said Thursday they have chosen a civilian prime minister for an interim government to be installed in a few days, but would not say if it will be the former army commander or another candidate.
"All five of us have unanimously agreed, and I guarantee that it is someone that the public can accept," said Navy chief Adm. Satirapan Keyanon, referring to the coup group's five military and police leaders.
The front-runner is widely believed to be former army commander Surayud Chulanont, a respected retired general and member of King Bhumibol Adulyadej's inner circle of advisers.
Another much-touted possibility is former World Trade Organization chief Supachai Panitchpakdi.
The military council has already said the interim prime minister, to serve until an election promised for October 2007, will be named over the weekend, at the same time a temporary constitution is enacted.
The council ousted elected prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in a bloodless coup on Sept. 19, while Thaksin was visiting New York. He is now in London, and has not indicated if or when he may try to return to Thailand.
Asked if the coup-makers had decided whom to appoint, Satirapan said, "I believe so." But he brushed off requests for a name, saying, "I cannot tell you. It's a gentleman's agreement."
The military council has also given itself the authority to remove the incoming government's prime minister and Cabinet members, according to a draft of a temporary constitution obtained by local media.
Legal experts have criticized the new constitution's draft text, saying it shows that the coup leaders don't intend to completely relinquish power.
The coup leaders have said their temporary constitution could be presented to the king for approval on Saturday.
They have vowed to install a temporary prime minister after the charter is approved.
A draft text of the constitution that appeared in Thai newspapers was confirmed by Meechai Ruchupan, a former Senate speaker who had a major role in writing the temporary charter. He was one of about a dozen people on a drafting committee selected by the military rulers.
Once the temporary constitution is in effect, the ruling council — which calls itself the Council for Democratic Reform — will be renamed the National Security Council and will advise the government on security matters, military leaders have said.
The draft text gives the National Security Council the right to call Cabinet meetings to "resolve administrative problems," and lets the council "remove the prime minister" and Cabinet members.
It empowers the council to select the National Assembly speaker and 100 of the 200 members of a drafting committee that will pen a permanent constitution.
Somchai Preechasilapakul, dean of Chiang Mai University's law faculty, said the constitution "will not be useful for society at all" if the final text resembles the draft.
"The process of drafting a constitution should allow people in various sectors to take part, but the fact that the (military rulers) still control the process does not provide a conducive atmosphere for that to happen," Somchai said.
He said the coup leaders "do not disappear, but just transform into the National Security Council."
The draft also includes an article that grants "complete immunity" to the coup leaders for overthrowing the government.
The military has been struggling to portray the coup as necessary amid international criticism that it was a blow to democracy.
It has promised to hand over power to a civilian regime by Oct. 4, and to hold a general election by October next year.