Prayut: It's not in Thailand's interest to curb military's power

Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha said he did not intend to run Thailand beyond two years. He told PM Lee Hsien Loong in Singapore last week that he was not running for election.
Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha said he did not intend to run Thailand beyond two years. He told PM Lee Hsien Loong in Singapore last week that he was not running for election.PHOTO: REUTERS

THAI Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who staged a coup last year and is now overseeing potentially major constitutional changes in the kingdom, says the military's power should not be limited.

"I wish this coup is the last," he said in an interview with Singapore media yesterday, adding that the solution was not to curb the military's power. "You cannot limit it, because the military is the one that always looks after the country."

General Prayut's coup was the kingdom's 12th since 1932, when it became a constitutional monarchy. Thailand's generals and military have dominated politics for much of the past eight decades since.

The former army chief now heads a military-dominated Cabinet whose decisions are endorsed by a military-stacked legislature. He has purged the senior ranks of the civil service, police and state enterprises of individuals deemed loyal to the previous civilian government and, in some cases, replaced them directly with military officers.

Although military rule has kept a lid on the kingdom's long-running political conflict for now, critics argue it will do nothing to solve it as the coup  was staged to protect the interests of the elite, on one side of the conflict, against the other side, which includes the rural masses.

Gen Prayut said he was laying the foundation for Thailand's long-term stability but that he could not guarantee it.

"In the future, (it would) depend on the Thai people," he said.

He came to power in May last year and soon laid out a 15-month road map involving, among other things, the drafting of a new Constitution, at the end of which he would make way for fresh elections to be held.

Since then, the projected date of elections has been pushed back to late next year in order to allow a referendum to be held on the kingdom's 20th Constitution.

The Premier  indicated that he did not intend to run the country beyond two years.

"If you count starting from May 22, (my term) will not exceed two years," he said. "We have to work together, make the best of time, don't let the country move backwards again."

Gen Prayut was sanguine about various countries' reservations about the situation in Thailand. The United States, for example, has said it would scale down its annual Cobra Gold military exercise in Thailand next year in the light of the political situation, although the kingdom has gone ahead to ink development deals with major Asian investors like China and Japan.

Thailand remains friends with all countries, he said.

"If they don't understand now, they will in the future."

Turning to other potential threats, he said he was not overly concerned about the possibility of Muslims in Thailand joining the cause of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which has drawn more than 500 people from Malaysia and Indonesia so far.

"This is not a direct problem for Thailand," he said. "But our country is a transit point for trade and travel.

"We are getting stricter in this aspect. We are now more strict at every airport, every exit and entry point."

Gen Prayut, who met Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last week on an introductory visit, revealed he made it clear to the Singapore leader that he had no intention of running for election.

"My job is to reform the country," he said. "Even if I am not in office anymore, I will look at how my successor is doing... if he or she is not doing well, I will do my civilian duty.

"My duty as a citizen is to cast my vote, give my voice in a referendum, and suggest solutions to the Member of Parliament I elected."

tanhy@sph.com.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 18, 2015, with the headline 'Prayut: It's not in Thailand's interest to curb military's power'. Print Edition | Subscribe