The leader of Thai’s military junta announced on Friday that elections will not be held in the country for over a year, a week after the army seized power in a bloodless coup.
In a speech intended to reassure Thais that the army has a plan to maintain stability and restore democracy in the country, Commander Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha explained that peace and reforms must be the country’s first priorities.
Prayuth added it could take the National Council for Peace and Order, which he heads, up to three months to achieve reconciliation in the deeply divided country, while it would take around a year to write a new constitution and establish an interim government. Only then would 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.
A return to democracy will not happen if there are still “protests without a true understanding of democracy,” he continued in his first public speech since the 22 May takeover, which aimed to end seven months of anti-government protest.
The speech is not expected to win favour among supporters of the recently ousted government, as it largely offered the same program advocated by anti-government protesters who had clashed with police and occupied government offices.
On Friday, the military sealed off a major Bangkok intersection for a second day to prevent a possible protest.
Thailand protests: Thai army declares martial law
Thailand protests: Thai army declares martial law
A Thai soldier stands in front of a portrait of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej as he patrols near government buildings in Bangkok
A pro-government protester points at a soldier during a cleanup at a pro-government demonstration site on the outskirts of Bangkok
Thai soldiers patrol near government buildings in Bangkok
A soldier walks past barefoot Buddhist monks begging for alms outside a temple near Government House in Bangkok
Thai police and army soldiers stand guard outside a military compound before former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra arrives to report to Thailand's ruling military in Bangkok
Thai soldiers stand guard at a roadblock outside the Defence Ministry building (background) after Thailand's army chief announced that the armed forces were seizing power in Bangkok
Thai soldiers patrol after army chief General Prayut Chan-O-Cha met with anti-government and pro-government leaders at the Army Club in Bangkok
Thai police and military display a haul of weapons seized during recent raids since the imposition of martial law, at a press conference at the Army Club in Bangkok
Thai soldiers stand next to the portrait of King Bhumibol Adulyadej after the declaration of martial law at the Army Club in Bangkok. Thai Army Chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, declared martial law giving the military full control to prevent further protest-related violence in the country
Anti-government protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban (R) gives a traditional greeting to a soldier before leaving Government House in Bangkok. Thailand's army chief said rival political groups should talk to each other and that the martial law imposed would last until peace and order had been restored
A Thai soldier stands outside the Government Public Relations Department in Bangkok
Thai soldiers man a checkpoint near pro-government "red shirt" supporters encampment in suburbs of Bangkok
(L-R) Thai Police Chief Adul Saengsingkaew, Navy Chief Adm Narong Pipattanasai, Army Chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha and Air Chief Marshall Prachin Chantong during a meeting at the Army Club in Bangkok. Thailand has been wracked by six months of non-stop protests seeking to topple the government. At least 25 people have died in political-related violence and more than 700 injured
Motorists on their way as Thai soldiers take to the streets with a heavy machine gun on a Humvee military vehicle at a main road outside the Royal Thai Police Sports Club in Bangkok
Outside police headquarters in Bangkok
An anti-government protester waves a Thai national flag during a rally outside the Government House in Bangkok. Thailand's Senate said it was ready to choose an interim prime minister to end a political deadlock but stopped short of throwing out a beleaguered caretaker government and risking a violent backlash by its supporters
Thai anti-government protesters shout slogans during a rally in front of the Parliament as senators debate to find and end to the country's political conflict in Bangkok. Thousands of anti-government protesters rallied the area surrounding parliament and Government House to pressure the Senate to appoint an interim government to institute political reforms before new elections while key Thai institutions are resisting the opposition's demands
Thai anti-government protesters gather in front of the Parliament in Bangkok
Thai riot policemen stand guard during an anti-government protest rally at the Air Force auditorium in Bangkok. Thailand's Election Commission called for the postponement of key parliamentary polls due to be held on 20 July 2014 because of political unrest shaking the kingdom
Anti-government protesters leave an air force base after breaking into its grounds in Bangkok. Protesters seeking to oust Thailand's government broke into the grounds of an air force compound where the acting prime minister was meeting the Election Commission to fix a date for new polls, forcing him to flee
Thai Air Force military (L) face anti-government protesters after they broke into the Royal Thai Air Force base in Bangkok. Hundreds of anti-government protesters broke into the meeting between the election commission and the caretaker government as they discussed for the planned next elections on 15 May 2014, after the results of the 02 February general elections were annulled. According to media reports, Thailand's Election Commission said that the 20 July polling is no longer possible due to political turmoil
Thai anti-government protesters leader Suthep Thaugsuban (C-L) cheers his followers during a street rally march toward Government House and Parliament in Bangkok
An anti-government protester (C) gives instructions to a fellow protester on how to wave a huge Thai flag from atop a barricade near the Government House in Bangkok. Thailand's beleaguered government warned people to stay away from anti-government protests, saying it had to step up security as the two sides in a lengthy political crisis squared off over who is running the country
An anti-government protester looks at a damaged telephone booth after a grenade attack at a protest site outside Government House in Bangkok. Supporters of Thailand's embattled government warned the country's judiciary and Senate against any attempt to install an unelected prime minister, saying it would be a disaster for the nation that could spark civil war
Anti-government protesters making a fist and waving a giant Thai flag, the symbol of the protest, on top of a truck as they rally outside Thai Parliament in a call for the final battle in Bangkok. Protesters marched on many key sites in Bangkok, police fired tear gas and some protesters have been injured. Protest leaders say they are hoping to strike the final blow at the weakened government and usher in a people's council to reform the government
Prayuth did not, however, mention former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was the main target of anti-government demonstrators.
Thaksin, who is at the centre of Thailand's political divide, was overthrown in a 2006 military coup after being accused of corruption and abuse of power. His sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was prime minister of the government besieged by protesters, having won a landslide election victory three years ago.
Thaksin is still supported by many rural Thais for his populist programs, but despised by others — particularly Bangkok's elite and middle classes — over allegations of corruption, abuse of power and disrespect for the monarchy. He lives abroad in self-imposed exile, but held great influence over the overthrown government led by his sister.
International reaction to the coup has been largely negative – sentiments noted by the NCPO leader.
"We do understand the world's order, that at the moment, it's the world of democracy,” he said, adding: "But let us have time to change our attitudes, values and several other things to solve Thailand's democracy to make it match with the international standards."
Read more: What is martial law and why was it imposed?
The United States, a longtime ally of Thailand, responded to the announcement with concern.
"Certainly we don't want anything to end in chaos. But we think setting a timeline for early elections is something that is not just possible, but it's what the appropriate step is and that that should be what their focus is on,"State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington.
Since the coup, the junta has take a zero-tolerance stance against dissent, by arresting more than 250 people, including members of the ousted government and other leading political figures, journalists, scholars and activists seen as critical of the regime. Roughly 70 people remain in custody.
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 in Bangkok and elsewhere.
A curfew remains in effect from midnight to 4 a.m. but has not affected critical travel, including that of tourists arriving at airports. Prayuth said his government would try to ease it as soon as possible.
Additional reporting by AP