Former Thai PM echoes rival in lambasting junta rule

BANGKOK (AFP) - Thailand's junta is in "panic mode" over the economy and is failing to heal the country's deep political rifts, former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said Friday (March 11) in unusually strident criticism of the kingdom's generals.

His remarks come just two days after his arch rival, self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, also hit out at the junta's nearly two years in power, an indication of how Thailand's bitterly divided political camps increasingly see eye to eye on military rule.

Thailand's generals seized power in May 2014 saying they would end more than a decade of political instability that has dogged the nation and dragged down what was once one of Southeast Asia's most vibrant economies.

Former army chief turned Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-O-Cha has vowed to kickstart the economy and end the kingdom's cycle of political violence and corruption with a new constitution, the country's twentieth since 1932.

But in a speech to business leaders in Bangkok, Abhisit said the junta was failing to carry out necessary economic reforms, especially in the flagging agricultural and industrial sectors.

"Despite two years of relative calm and also initiatives being taken by the current government when it came to power, there has been too little progress even on this front and now it's almost in panic mode," he said.

He was equally scathing of the junta's new constitution.

"I think it's also clear that we're not going to get the kind of constitution that many of us want whether in terms of democratic standards, whether in terms of a document that will lead to true reforms that are much needed or even on the issue of so-called reconciliation," he said.

Thailand has suffered a decade of turmoil as pro-democracy activists and rural supporters of the Shinawatra family vie for power with Bangkok's arch-royalist elite and their allies in the military.

Many supporters of Abhisit, an Eton-educated Bangkokian who was in power from 2008 to 2011, were at the forefront of protests against Thaksin's sister Yingluck, and cheered the 2014 coup that toppled her government.

But even the military's natural allies have begun to chafe under their protracted rule and Abhisit's remarks mimic recent comments by Thaksin on the army.

In a speech and a series of media interviews in New York this week, Thaksin accused the military of clinging to power and said the generals had little to show for their time in office.

Abhisit also hit out at the military's claim it was rooting out graft after a series of corruption scandals enveloped senior military officers.

"Given some of the things that have already happened, I'm not so sure they can say they're better than politicians. And I'm talking about corruption, I'm talking about abuse of power too," he told delegates.