Thai junta chief vows 2017 elections even if charter rejected

Agence France-Presse

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Thai junta chief vows 2017 elections even if charter rejected
Analysts say the pledge appears to be a delaying tactic by the military to hang onto power

BANGKOK, Thailand – Thailand’s junta chief on Tuesday, January 26, vowed to hold a general election in the summer of 2017 even if a new constitution penned by regime appointees is rejected in a public referendum.

Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-O-Cha seized power in a May 2014 coup, toppling a democratically elected government after months of street protests by demonstrators who lobbied for a coup.

He justified the takeover as a necessary evil to end Thailand’s decade-long political conflict.

The former army chief says a new constitution is the only way to dilute the power of elected politicians and curtail corruption from civilian administrations.

According to the junta’s previously trumpeted “roadmap to democracy”, elections would only be held once the new constitution was approved by a public referendum.

Analysts said the pledge appeared to be a delaying tactic by the military to hang onto power.

But on Tuesday Prayut appeared to reverse his position.

“Even if the charter does not pass a referendum I insist that there will be an election,” he told reporters, adding that a vote would take place in July 2017.

Immediately after his coup, the twelfth successful army takeover since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932, Prayut promised to return power to civilians within 18 months. 

But that date has repeatedly slipped. 

Last year the military’s own advisory council rejected a constitution draft after nine months of labour on it, pushing elections back to the summer of 2017 at the earliest. 

That document included a last minute provision that would have allowed a military-dominated ‘crisis panel’ to take over from any government at will, an addition at which even some junta supporters balked.

For years the kingdom has been split between pro-democracy supporters of ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra and his parties and a conservative, royalist elite backed by the military and judiciary.

Shinawatra-backed parties have won every election since 2001 but have been ousted by two coups and seen the removal of three prime ministers by the courts.

The junta says its new charter holds the key to bridging the divide to ensure future prosperity.

But critics have pilloried the document as divisive, anti-democratic and aimed at prolonging military rule.

Thailand’s constitution has been rewritten 20 times since 1932, the equivalent of once every four years.

If Prayut is still prime minister come election time he will have spent more time in power than any other military government in Thailand since 1969. –

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