NEW YORK (AFP) - The Thai military junta wants to cling onto power as long as possible, the country's fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra said in an interview in New York, not ruling out a return to politics.
The telecoms tycoon, who was toppled in a 2006 coup and now lives in self-exile overseas, said he "wished" he could go home but would consider a return only if it would "benefit the country and the people".
In May 2014, Thailand's generals deposed the government of Thaksin's younger sister Yingluck and are now redrafting the Constitution, although the junta chief has vowed to hold elections in 2017.
Thaksin said he did "not believe" the elections promise and heavily criticised the junta, who say a new Constitution is necessary to curtail corruption.
"If we look at their behaviour, as if they would like to stay as long as possible," he said in an interview at a New York hotel, when asked how long he thought the military would hold onto power.
The former prime minister repeatedly expressed concerns about the future of Thailand if the new Constitution is adopted.
The junta justified its power grab as a bid to restore order and protect the monarchy, headed by the revered but frail 88-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
Parties led by or aligned to the Shinawatras have won every election since 2001, and they are loved in the nation's rural north for their populist policies.
But the clan's enemies, including large parts of the military, judiciary and royalist elite in Bangkok and the south accuse them of cronyism, corruption and financially ruinous politics.
Nearly two years later, Thaksin said the junta had done "nothing on reconciliation" and were "not providing justice for all, just only trying to use the law to benefit their own politics".
He said he wanted the country to prosper and Thai people guaranteed freedom of speech and human rights protections.
"I'm not ruling myself out but I'm not having ambition to do it again," he said. "I'm 67 already now," he added. "I want to live my life peacefully."
He insisted for the moment that he was happy to stay in Dubai and travel, mentioning Beijing and London as favorite destinations.
But he has also stepped out of the shadows in recent weeks, giving interviews in Singapore and addressing the World Policy Forum in New York on Wednesday.
From the street, shouts of dozens of protesters could be heard as Thaksin began his speech. They were split into two camps - welcoming Thaksin and insisting that he go to jail for corruption.
The former premier apologised to the well-heeled audience at a private members club for the protesters, but quipped that he hoped they were enjoying freedom of expression in the United States.
The billionaire used part of his speech to stress the role that Thailand could play in forging closer ties between China and America.
And in the interview, he warned that the junta could impede economic growth and foreign investment by fanning political uncertainty.
Thailand's decade of political instability has been exacerbated by King Bhumibol's advancing years. Analysts say the military and its backers are determined to be in control as competing elites jostle for influence.
Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, 63, is King Bhumibol's chosen successor but has so far achieved little of the widespread popularity of his father.
Thaksin said he had no concerns about how succession would pan out.
"We have the law and the tradition in place that ensures the smooth succession if it were to happen, but I wish the King a long life," he said.
He did however express concerns for his sister, who has been put on trial by the military authorities for negligence, a charge she and her supporters say is politically motivated.
"We are worried about the justice that she will be receiving," he said, branding the junta's ban on her returning to politics for five years as "very ridiculous".
Thaksin, who studied as a post-graduate in the United States, said he was a frequent visitor and was in America to meet friends.
He called on the United States to play a stronger role in fostering democracy in South-east Asia but demurred on the presidential election, which has been dominated by the rise of tycoon Donald Trump, saying only that his levels of support was "very impressive".