Thailand faces 15-month wait for elections

A Thai soldier directs people to a skytrain exit as several ones got closed to Victory Monument, the site of recent anti-coup protests which has been sealed off by security forces to prevent further rallies in Bangkok on May 30, 2014.
A Thai soldier directs people to a skytrain exit as several ones got closed to Victory Monument, the site of recent anti-coup protests which has been sealed off by security forces to prevent further rallies in Bangkok on May 30, 2014.

BANGKOK - Thailand will have to wait for about 15 months or more before elections are held, according to Thai junta chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, who has laid out his road map for reforms after seizing power though a military coup on May 22.

In a televised statement last night, the army chief said the junta would first start a national reconciliation process to bridge the rifts widened through the nearly decade-long political conflict. This is expected to take two to three months.

A reform committee will be set up and a temporary Cabinet appointed, and the Constitution rewritten. This will take about a year, after which, a general election can be held.

No amnesty will be given to those with outstanding criminal charges, he added.

The army chief, who had stayed on the sidelines of the kingdom's six month-long political conflict, seized power from the caretaker Puea Thai government after talks to broker a resolution failed to make headway.

Two days prior to that, he had declared martial law in what he says was an effort to compel all feuding parties to the table.

The crisis has its roots in an almost decade-long political conflict that has cleaved Thai society right down the middle. Primarily, it involves a battle for control that pits Thailand's royalist establishment and urban middle class against the rural masses behind former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in a military coup in 2006.

The billionaire commands the devotion of masses in the north and north-east despite living overseas to avoid jail for a graft-related conviction. Critics attribute the electoral dominance to vote buying and populist policies.

The junta says it was forced to step in to prevent Thailand from becoming a "failed state".

Political violence in the preceding month had killed nearly 30 people as protesters bent on ousting the Puea Thai party led caretaker government occupied the streets, invaded government offices and sabotaged the Feb 2 elections to prevent its re-election.

A military document obtained by Reuters, however, has revealed that the army had prepared to impose martial law should the situation get out of control, as early as Dec 27.

The National Council for Peace and Order - as the junta calls itself - plans to set up reconciliation centres nationwide to heal the political divisions.

Observers say this will be difficult if the army is seen as taking sides in the conflict.

In north and north-eastern Thailand, the military has rounded up pro-Thaksin "red shirt" leaders and stripped self-declared "red shirt" districts of any physical reminders of their affiliation. The junta has also purged senior officials seen as having close links with Thaksin.

tanhy@sph.com.sg