Thai coup leader rules out polls for a year

Army chief Prayuth says more time is needed to implement reforms and draft new constitution before elections are held.

    The head of Thailand's military regime has ruled out elections for at least a year and promised that soldiers would head back to their barracks once the country's unresolved political issues had been addressed.

    "They [ruling military regime] have a timeframe of one year and three months to move towards elections," said army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha in a televised national address on Friday, a week after the army took power.

    "Give us time to solve the problems for you. Then the soldiers will step back to look at Thailand from afar," he said. 

    He said a first phase of around three months would focus on "reconciliation" in the ferociously divided nation, with a cabinet and new draft constitution put in place to enact reforms during a second year-long phase. Only after this could elections be held.

    Al Jazeera's Veronica Pedrosa, reporting from the northern city of Chiang Mai, said it was the first time that Prayuth had addressed the nation since last week's coup.

    "He also said that protests would not be tolerated," our correspondent said.  

    Analysis: Thailand and the military junta

    Thailand's military seized power on May 22 and set about rounding up scores of political figures, academics and activists.

    Authorities have scrapped the constitution, curtailed civil liberties under martial law and imposed a nightly curfew.

    Around 300 people have now been held for periods of up to a week, with those released threatened with prosecution if they continue political activism.

    On Thursday, the United States reiterated a call for a swift return to democratic rule, with State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki saying Washington would "use every political lever, economic lever where applicable to put the necessary pressure on".

    On Friday, the military sealed off a major Bangkok intersection for a second day to prevent a possible protest.

    At the centre of Thailand's deep political divide is Thaksin Shinawatra, a former prime minister supported by many rural Thais for his populist policies but despised by others, particularly Bangkok's elite and middle classes, over allegations of corruption, abuse of power and disrespect for the monarchy.

    He was ousted in a 2006 coup and lives abroad in self-imposed exile, but held great influence over the overthrown government, which had been led by his sister until a court ousted her earlier this month.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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