BANGKOK — Thailand will not see an election for at least a year, says the head of the military junta, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha.
In a televised address last night, Gen. Prayuth explained his three-phase "roadmap" for Thailand, following last week’s military coup d’etat and dissolution of the civilian government.
The first phase involves "2-3 months" of military-led efforts to "reconcile" Thai society, which has become radically polarised amidst the political tumult that has rocked the country on-and-off for the past eight years. To achieve the ambitious goal of healing these divisions, the military will form local "reconcilation centres" across the country and convene a council dedicated to the "reconciliation" mission, Gen. Prayuth said.
The reconciliation effort will not award amnesty to those involved in the political violence that preceded the military's takeover, the army chief added.
After nationwide "reconciliation" is achieved, the military junta will set up an interim government and reform council to revise the constitution and solve problems of “all aspects.”
The reform phase will take about a year, Gen. Prayuth said. "It can be longer, or shorter. It depends on the situation," he said.
After reconciliation and reforms are completed, there will be an election "under a genuine democratic regime,” the army chief said.
According to Gen. Prayuth, this roadmap will ensure that Thailand's next election will produce a "good, honest, and just" leader that is accepted by all sides.
The televised address was the first time Thailand’s military junta has detailed its plans for the country after seizing power from the previous government and forming the National Council of Peace and Order on 22 May.
Prior to last night's speech, Gen. Prayuth evaded questions related to elections and an appointment of Prime Minister.
The speech dispelled any hope that an election will be held in Thailand in the near future. Many observers noted Gen. Prayuth's emphasis that the 15-month roadmap can be extended "depending on the situation."
Gen. Prayuth's roadmap immediately alarmed the United States, Thailand's biggest western ally, which has been calling on the Thai junta to organise an election and return to civilian administration as soon as possible.
"We know that they have announced a, quote, 'road map toward democracy,' but with scant details included," American State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki was quoted by the AFP as saying.
The US strongly condemned the military takeover last week and has already cut military aid to Thailand in response.
Ms. Psaki said that the US would prefer to see the military set a timeline for early elections held through an “inclusive and transparent electoral process.”
"There's no reason that they can't be held in the short term," she said.
The Australian government also announced today that it will decrease its cooperation with the Thai military to protest the coup d'etat, and that it has banned the coup-makers from travelling to Australia.
The Australian government urged the NCPO "to set a pathway for a return to democracy and the rule of law as soon as possible, to refrain from arbitrary detentions, to release those detained for political reasons and to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms."
It is unclear whether international pressure will persuade Gen. Prayuth to hasten the election roadmap.
“We understand that we are living in a democratic world,” Gen. Prayuth said in last night's speech. “Please give us time to change attitudes, values and many other things.”