Despite his promise to return Thailand to democracy, Prayuth Chan-ocha is tightening his grip

GENERAL PRAYUTH CHAN-OCHA APPEARS AT EASE among the lavish trappings of politics. Thailand’s Prime Minister is never far from doting courtiers in Bangkok’s 1920s Government House, a neo-Gothic building stippled with classical nudes and one particularly plump jade Buddha.

The opulence is a far cry from what Prayuth experienced in his four decades as a soldier, when he was trained to brave enemy fire from jungle-swathed foxholes. Still, he expresses dissatisfaction with this coda to his career away from the barracks. He sits in a position of power, he says, only out of a sense of duty. “When people are in trouble, we, the soldiers, are there for them,” he tells TIME.

The question for Thailand is how long they will be there. Four years have passed since Prayuth, 64, seized power in a coup d’état. It was the 12th successful coup since the establishment of a constitutional monarchy in 1932, and Prayuth promised to quickly shepherd the Southeast Asian nation of 69 million back to democracy.

But the Thai people are still waiting to vote on their futures. Many here and in the region fear that under Prayuth’s watch, America’s oldest ally in Asia

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