Thai Coup Leader Says Return to Democracy Will Take Year

General Prayuth Chan-ocha says new elections can only be called after a period of reconciliation and reform under army rule.

A Thai policeman smiles while talking to a member of the Royal Guards in Bangkok, September 29, 2011
A Thai policeman smiles while talking to a member of the Royal Guards in Bangkok, September 29, 2011 (Jack Zalium)

Thailand’s army and coup leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha appealed for patience from the country’s population and its allies in a speech late Friday night, saying the return to democracy would take about one year.

Prayuth, who ousted the civilian government last week to end six months of deadlock between supporters and opponents of the Pheu Thai party, said a temporary constitution would be drawn up and an interim cabinet installed after three months of “reconciliation”.

Thailand is polarized between the royalist establishment in Bangkok and other southern cities that is dominated by old money families and the military and an upstart clique led by former telecommunication mogul Thaksin Shinawatra which draws its support from the rural north.

Thaksin was deposed by the army in 2006 and now lives in Dubai. His sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, became prime minister in 2011 and continued many of his populist economic programs, including rice subsidies for the poor, that enabled their Pheu Thai party to win election after election. She was forced by step down by the nation’s supreme court earlier this month which ruled unconstitutional her dismissal of her national-security chief three years ago, who was a supporter of the opposition party.

The political crisis in heightened by anxiety over the royal succession. King Bhumibol Adulyadej is the world’s longest reigning monarch and spent almost four years in hospital between 2009 and 2013. The “yellow shirt” royalists and urban elites suspect that his designated successor, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, sympathizes with the Shinawatras and their “red shirt” supporters.

Despite imposing marital law and flooding downtown Bangkok with police and soldiers on Saturday, small protests against the military takeover are held almost daily in the capital. But there has been no serious violence.

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