Thailand’s military junta will install an interim constitution next month, and elections will be held around October next year, its leader announced on Friday.
Army commander General Prayuth Chan-ocha, who seized power in a coup last month, said the temporary constitution will allow an interim legislature and cabinet to begin governing the country in September. He said an appointed reform council and constitution drafting committee would then work on a long-term charter to take effect July next year.
Prayuth said in televised speech that a general election would be held around three months after the adoption of the constitution. He made no mention of a public referendum on the new charter, as was held in 2007 after an earlier coup against an elected government.
The army seized power May 22 in a bloodless coup, overthrowing a government elected by a majority of voters three years ago. Prayuth has said the coup was necessary to restore order after six months of anti-government protests and political turmoil that left at least 28 people dead and the government paralysed.
But since taking power, the army appears to be carrying on the fight of the anti-government protesters by mapping out a similar agenda to rewrite the constitution and institute political reforms before elections. It has quashed most dissent, threatening or arresting critics of the coup.
Prayuth said the national reform council will consider political, economic, social, environmental, judicial and other matters and give its recommendations to the constitution drafting committee.
He said the ruling junta “wants to see an election that will take place under the new constitution ... that will be free and fair, so that it can become a solid foundation for a complete Thai democracy.” It wants a political system that will bring development to the country, and not conflicts as in the past, he said.
Critics charge that the army plans to make the constitution less democratic by reducing the power of elected politicians and increasing the number of appointed legislators, with the goal of allowing the traditional, conservative royalist ruling elite to retain power.
Prayuth also spoke about international criticism of the coup, particularly from the European Union and the United States, which have cut back on aid and political co-operation and called for early elections.
“Today, if we go ahead and hold a general election, it will lead to a situation that creates conflict and the country will return to the old cycle of conflict, violence, corruption by influential groups in politics, terrorism and the use of war weapons. We cannot let that happen,” Prayuth said.
“I truly hope that the EU and the US will understand the situation the same way the majority of Thais do and I hope they will be satisfied with our solutions right now,” he said.
Thailand has been deeply divided since 2006, when former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was toppled by a military coup after being accused of corruption, abuse of power and disrespect for King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
Thaksin, a former telecommunications billionaire, remains highly popular among the poor in Thailand’s north and northeast, and parties controlled by him have won every national election since 2001. The anti-government protesters, backed by the country’s traditional elites, bitterly opposed him and sought to remove all traces of his political machine from politics.