Thailand’s coup leader said Friday it would be at least 15 months before elections are held, adding that an interim government would be formed in the meantime.
General Prayuth Chan-ocha also outlined a broad plan to reform the country, the first clear time table announced since the May 22 coup.
The coup followed six months of massive anti-government protests that brought hundreds of thousands to the streets nationwide, calling for former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to step down. The demonstrations had a debilitating effect on the country, damaging investor confidence, scaring off tourists and, at times, paralyzing the capital, Bangkok.
Prayuth’s timetable to return to democracy includes two phases: The first, expected to take two to three months, would focus on ensuring security and reconciliation.
The army chief said unifying the divided country is the first priority. He has previously said that he would detain rival leaders together so they would “learn to love each other.”
In the second phase of Prayuth’s plan, which he said would take about one year, a temporary constitution will be drafted and a national assembly will be set up to choose a new prime minister.
The U.S. and other allies have criticized the coup and called for a quick return to democracy. Prayuth said the military had no interest in holding on to power.
“The country comes first, democracy can follow. We need time. When the mission is finished, we will go back to normal military duty,” the army chief said, according to the Bangkok Post.
The Thai military has detained more than 250 people in past few weeks, including members of the ousted government, protest leaders from both pro- and anti-government parties, journalists, scholars and activists seen as critical of the regime. About 70 are still in custody.
On Friday, the military cordoned off a major intersection in Bangkok for the second day in order to stymie plans for protests. Hundreds of troops took to the streets during rush hour after small protests threatened to raise tensions.
A curfew enacted after the coup is still in place from midnight to 4a.m.
This month's coup was at least Thailand’s 12th since 1932, when the country ended its absolute monarchy. Following the 2006 coup, when Yingluck’s brother – former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted – it took just over a year to hold new elections.
Anti-government protesters had accused Yingluck of being a puppet of her brother Thaksin, who has lived in exile since his ouster.
Yingluck was removed from office on May 7 along with several of her cabinet members by the Constitutional Court. That was followed by a decision by the National Anti-Corruption Commission to indict Yingluck over a controversial rice-subsidy program.
With wire services