Thailand coup: Elections won't take place for another year, says military junta leader

Commander Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha made the announcement in his first speech since the army seized power last week
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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.

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."

The Thai military take over the streets surrounding the Victory Monument on May 30, 2014 in Bangkok, Thailand.

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