BANGKOK, Thailand -- Coup leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha's hand-picked, rubber stamp legislature appointed him unopposed as prime minister on Thursday (August 21), increasing his vast security, legislative and economic powers.

Gen. Prayuth, 60, was the only candidate.

He did not show up for the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) decision, which was endorsed by 191 of the contrived assembly's 197 members in 15 minutes.

No one dissented. Three abstained and three were absent.

Old-fashioned, conservative, testy, and staunchly royalist, Gen. Prayuth meanwhile was visiting troops outside Bangkok.

Gen. Prayuth now holds three titles simultaneously:  prime minister, army chief, and chairman of the junta's National Council for Peace and Order.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 86 and hospitalized, was expected to soon formally endorse Gen. Prayuth's selection as Thailand's 29th prime minister.

The U.S. Embassy in Bangkok said it hopes Gen. Prayuth's move "leads to a freely and fairly elected civilian government."

The regime needs to "end restrictions on free speech and assembly, as well as to lift martial law and press restrictions," the embassy's statement said, according to Washington's Voice of America news agency.

Thailand is a major non-NATO U.S. treaty ally.

The U.S., European Union, Australia and other nations criticized the coup and invoked some penalties, including the Pentagon which cancelled some military assistance.

China and several Southeast Asian nations turned a blind eye to Gen. Prayuth's destruction of the elected government, and are engaging in business as usual with Bangkok.

The general led a bloodless military coup on May 22, toppling elected prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Gen. Prayuth was frustrated after participating in a 2006 coup which ousted her brother, elected prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Mr. Thaksin is immensely popular and his candidates repeatedly win at the polls.

He remains a fugitive abroad, dodging a two-year prison sentence for abuse of power.

Mrs. Yingluck is in Bangkok facing allegations of negligence during her administration.

Three weeks ago, Gen. Prayuth's junta created the NLA with a majority of serving and retired military and police officers, plus civilian collaborators.

Gen. Prayuth is scheduled to retire from the army in September, but it was unclear if he would do so.

That would necessitate Gen. Prayuth ensuring the loyalty of his successor as army chief, and other top military officers, and satisfy various military factions in upcoming military promotions.

"As army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, and other armed forces leaders, approach their scheduled retirement on Sept. 30, they need to be sure the transfer of military power goes smoothly, and that their successors will not stage a counter-coup against them," the Bangkok Post reported on Aug. 13

As prime minister, he could also remain in charge of the junta even if he is no longer army chief.

He could then try to gain legitimacy by convincing the international community that he was "elected" by a legislature.

Gen. Prayuth played a major role in the army's crushing of a nine-week, pro-democracy insurrection in Bangkok in 2010, which left more than 90 people dead, mostly civilians.

After the May coup, he arranged amnesty for himself and his junta for any act they committed before, during and after the putsch.

He cancelled the constitution, banned elections and political parties, enforced harsh decrees against free speech, and banned political meetings of five people or more.

The junta detained hundreds of critics, and released most of them after they agreed to stop their anti-coup activity.

Gen. Prayuth declared military courts will put civilians on trial if they oppose the junta, and is overseeing efforts to try and extradite Thais who fled abroad to England, Japan and elsewhere.

The junta has made influential decisions about Thailand's multi-billion-dollar national budget, investment contracts, subsidies, infrastructure projects and other aspects of this modernizing, capitalist economy.

Each Friday, Gen. Prayuth appears on nationwide TV, lecturing how he is "returning happiness" to Thailand.

Billboards, events, festivals, local media and other public venues hype the word "Happiness," hammering his slogan home.

Gen. Prayuth draws support from factions among the military, royalists, wealthy business leaders, Bangkok's middle class and others.

They hope he will permanently prevent any election which brings Mr. Thaksin, Mrs. Yingluck, or their political allies back to power.

The rich, powerful siblings have followers among some police, royal circles, and top businesses.

Their candidates repeatedly won elections by rallying Thailand's majority rural and lower-classes and other voters.

Their "new money" backers successfully used elections to challenge Bangkok's "old money" feudalistic hierarchy, which is not popular enough to win at the polls.