Thailand's junta chief elected as country's next prime minister

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha arrives to a weekly cabinet meeting, at Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, June 4, 2019.

Bangkok, Thailand (CNN)The former head of Thailand's military junta has been formally elected as the country's next prime minister by members of the lower and upper houses of Parliament, consolidating the military's grip on power following national elections in March.

Prayut Chan-o-cha, who installed himself as Thailand's leader following a coup in 2014, beat the popular billionaire leader of the anti-junta Future Forward Party, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, with 500 votes to 244 after a 12-hour session that included 10 hours of fierce debate in Parliament Wednesday night.
The 40-year-old Thanathorn, who had seen his popularity soar among many of Thailand's young voters, was nominated as the pro-democracy camp's choice for prime minister.
    Prayut will now head a coalition government led by the pro-military Palang Pracharat Party.
    In a press conference following the vote, Thanathorn apologized to his supporters, "we couldn't achieve our mission that we couldn't stop NCPO (National Council for Peace and Order)" he said, referring to the formal name of the military junta. "This lost wasn't unexpected."
    Wednesday's vote follows a confusing end to Thailand's first post-coup poll, which took place on March 24.
    The announcement of final results was delayed and no party took a decisive lead though both leading parties -- Pheu Thai and Palang Pracharat -- claimed the right to form a coalition.
    The contest was also dogged by allegations of voting irregularities, leading one non-governmental watchdog to determine that the election was "not free and fair."
    Shortly after the vote, the main opposition Pheu Thai party -- which is aligned with former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose allies were ousted before the coup -- and six other parties announced they had forged a coalition accounting for 255 seats in the 500-member lower house of parliament.
    Their aim to block the military's return to power ultimately failed as Prayut was able to re