Thailand sets up reconciliation panel ahead of polls

Main political parties say they are open to reconciliation but question neutrality under military administration.

    The army overthrew Thailand's last elected prime minister in 2014 [EPA]
    The army overthrew Thailand's last elected prime minister in 2014 [EPA]

    Thailand's military government is setting up a reconciliation panel of generals and civilian experts to find common ground between political factions in the run-up to general elections, the general named to lead the body said.

    General Chaichan Changmongkol, appointed by the government to lead the panel, told reporters on Friday that it would include the head of the armed forces, army specialists, and civilian analysts.

    The army overthrew Thailand's last elected prime minister in 2014, saying it had intervened to end street protests and years of political turmoil. It has promised to restore democracy to the Southeast Asian country.

    Thais approve new constitution in referendum

    "We will spend three months listening to the views of every side and on every subject, whether it is politics, reforms or education," said Chaichan, who is permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence.

    The panel would then come up with an agreement that all sides would sign to ensure a peaceful transition, he said.

    Thailand's political divide is broadly between a traditionalist elite, centred in Bangkok, and the less-prosperous parts of the country, which largely backed populist governments before the most recent coup.

    Both Thailand's main political parties said they were open to reconciliation - if it was done fairly.

    "The reconciliation process must be neutral, must be fair, and must be according to the law," said former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who was overthrown in the last coup.

    Polls repeatedly postponed

    The army has repeatedly promised new polls since the coup with the latest scheduled for this year, but a delay until 2018 is now widely expected.

    Critics say the generals are working to ensure their political influence after elections, including drafting a constitution that enshrines military power at the expense of political parties.

    Since helping to overthrow an absolute monarchy in what was then Siam in 1932, the military has staged 19 coups, 12 of them successful, and has provided 12 of its 29 prime ministers in that time.

    The military government has dismissed suggestions that it should also sign any reconciliation agreement and agree not to stage more coups.

    "The majority of soldiers do not want to seize power. Having power isn't everything," Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan told reporters. "The citizens supported this coup because we restored stability."

    Thailand: Is ousted PM Yingluck plotting a political comeback?

    SOURCE: News agencies


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