BANGKOK (REUTERS) – Thai junta leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha, in an address to the nation a day after he was elected prime minister by a legislature he hand-picked, asked Thais not to dwell on the dramatic coup he led in May.
“There is no point saying whether a coup is good or whether it is bad,” Gen Prayuth said in his Friday night speech. “I have never said that all my actions are correct or incorrect. I take responsibility for my actions. Others must take responsibility for theirs,” he added without elaborating.
In a rambling, 90-minute speech Gen Prayuth, who is also Thailand’s army chief, touched on a number of topics ranging from Thailand’s illegal ivory trade to practices of human trafficking in the fishing industry.
Gen Prayuth did not mention his appointment as prime minister.
His election, which still needs to be endorsed by Thailand’s king, adds a veneer of legitimacy to a military council, formally known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), that has ruled unchallenged since it took control.
It comes at a time when Thailand’s economy, which narrowly avoided a technical recession in the second quarter this year, is struggling to get back on its feet after months of sometimes violent street demonstrations.
The military staged a coup on May 22 after months of turbulence pitting protesters, including the urban elite and southern Thais, against supporters of ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
Gen Prayuth has outlined a year-long roadmap including the appointment of a council to oversee national reforms, an interim government and elections in late 2015.
The military detained hundreds of politicians, activists and academics, holding many at undisclosed locations in the weeks after it took control. A junta spokesman told Reuters on Friday that all detainees had been released.
But allegations of abuse in military custody, plus signs of defiance on Thai campuses, undermine Gen Prayuth’s claim that the junta is – to borrow the title of his Friday-night TV address -“returning happiness to the people”.