Elections in Thailand could be year away, says military leader

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THE HEAD of the military junta that took control of Thailand in a coup last week has said that elections may not occur for more than a year because peace and reforms must be achieved first.

Army commander General Prayuth Chan-ocha spelled out the junta’s plans in his first speech directly to the public since the May 22 coup.

Prayuth repeated warnings to the public against staging any more protests or resisting the army’s takeover, saying they would slow the process of bringing back “happiness” to the Thai people. He said it would take at least two to three months to achieve reconciliation in the deeply divided country, and then it would take about a year to write a new constitution and set up an interim government.

Only then could elections be held, he said.

“Give us time to solve the problems for you. Then the soldiers will step back to look at Thailand from afar,” he said.

Prayuth also explained the junta’s plans for administering the country, emphasising financial stability and transparency.

The army coup overthrew a government that won a landslide election victory three years ago but has been rocked by protests. In the past week, the junta has moved to silence its critics and warned that it will not tolerate dissent.

The former absolute monarchy has struggled with democracy, with elected governments continually mired in corruption scandals and an urban elite unhappy at seeing their preferred politicians outvoted by rural poor. For decades Thailand was run by military dictatorships.

The junta has summoned more than 250 people, including members of the government it ousted and other leading political figures, journalists, scholars and activists seen as critical of the regime. Roughly 70 people are still in custody.

The military sealed off a major Bangkok intersection on Friday for a second day to prevent a possible protest.

The massive show of force, involving hundreds of troops during the evening rush hour, came in response to small but near-daily demonstrations that have raised tensions.

At the centre of Thailand’s deep political divide is Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister who is well known in Britain for his brief ownership of Manchester City, who was supported by many rural Thais but despised by Bangkok’s elite and middle classes.

He was ousted in a 2006 coup and lives abroad in self-imposed exile, but held great influence over the overthrown government, led by his sister, until a court ousted her in May.

Despite the latest political upheaval, life has continued largely as normal in most of the country, with tourists still relaxing at beach resorts and strolling through Buddhist temples. A curfew remains in effect from midnight to 4am but has not affected critical travel, including that of tourists arriving at airports.

It follows news that Thailand’s new military junta has broadcast videos showing detained political figures in a bid to convince the public they are being treated well.

The footage showed five detainees speaking to army officers at an undisclosed location.

The most prominent among them was Jatuporn Prompan, the leader of the Red Shirt movement that had vowed to take action if the military seized power.