Thai PM pledges to announce polls in 2018

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha with US President Donald Trump in the White House on Monday. Mr Prayut said he had a new friend in Mr Trump, and was "deeply appreciative" of being invited there.
Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha with US President Donald Trump in the White House on Monday. Mr Prayut said he had a new friend in Mr Trump, and was "deeply appreciative" of being invited there.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

New govt would be formed 120 days later, Prayut says on US trip, with key deals inked

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, on his first trip to the US since he seized power in a coup d'etat in 2014, has pledged to announce a general election in Thailand next year.

An election date would be announced and a new government formed 120 days later, he told an audience of American business executives and senior US Cabinet and State Department officials on Tuesday night.

Mr Prayut did not give any date, but the pledge is still significant, an American diplomat told The Straits Times.

"Opportunity comes with crisis," the 63-year-old Thai Premier said at a dinner hosted by the US Chamber of Commerce and the US-Asean Business Council.

The United States was the third-biggest foreign investor in Thailand last year.

"Thailand is in a place of transition into democracy," said Mr Prayut, who was the army chief when the military seized power from Thailand's elected government three years ago. He stepped down as army chief after taking over the premiership.

The Thai leader stressed at the dinner that the objective of his government was to lay the foundation for a democratic government and ensure policy continuity.

HOPES FOR THAILAND

As a long-time friend and ally, the US wants Thailand to emerge as a strengthened democracy that guarantees human rights and fundamental freedoms.

US COMMERCE SECRETARY WILBUR ROSS

His three-day trip to the US, which included a stop at the White House and a working lunch with President Donald Trump on Monday, was seen by analysts as a diplomatic coup and a reset of the US-Thai alliance.

Also speaking at Tuesday's dinner, US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said: "As a long-time friend and ally, the US wants Thailand to emerge as a strengthened democracy that guarantees human rights and fundamental freedoms."

A top aide to Mr Prayut told The Straits Times that the Thai Prime Minister's visit to the US had been very successful.

Mr Prayut himself was in an ebullient mood, saying he had a new friend in Mr Trump and that he was "deeply appreciative" of being invited to the White House.

"The relationship between Thailand and America will continue in a positive manner for the next 200 years," Mr Prayut pledged at the dinner.

He also laid out ambitious plans for more Thai investment in the US, and said Thailand and Asean were markets that presented the US with huge opportunities.

Thailand's foreign direct investment in the US was US$2.1 billion (S$2.9 billion) last year, four times greater than in 2015.

Thailand's investment in America helped to support thousands of jobs, and the intent was to increase investment by an additional US$8.3 billion.

One of the key agreements inked during the trip included the purchase of over 100,000 tonnes of coal from the US by Siam Cement Group. Mr Trump has said he wants to revive the coal industry.

Mr Prayut was accompanied by more than two dozen Thai business executives and 23 journalists.

Thailand is also eyeing more purchases of Black Hawk helicopters from the US, and its petrochemical giant PTT is planning a US$6 billion investment in Ohio.

Mr Ross, who last week became the first US commerce secretary in 30 years to visit Bangkok, said Thailand was his country's 21st-largest trading partner, with two-way trade totalling US$40.1 billion last year.

The US, he added, was in a record trade deficit of US$19 billion with Thailand.

But the US is "committed to working with Thailand to address trade barriers and to promote economic growth in both countries", he said.

"We can expect to reap further benefits of expanded US-Thai commercial relations," said Mr Ross.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2017, with the headline 'Thai PM pledges to announce polls in 2018'. Print Edition | Subscribe