For the first time since the May 22 coup in Thailand, the general running the country has indicated a date for establishing an interim government.
Army General Prayuth Chan-ocha said power will be delegated to an interim government in several months.
Speaking to senior military officials and government bureaucrats, the head of Thailand’s junta announced “a government will be set up by August, or at the very latest, September.” But the army chief, known for his blunt manner, added “don't ask me who they are and where they come from.”
There is speculation that Prayuth, due to retire from the military in September, could appoint himself prime minister.
In an address focusing on next year’s national budget, the general, who seized power three weeks ago from the weakened caretaker government, reiterated a new temporary constitution is to be drafted within three months, but said it will be at least a year before general elections can take place.
The army chief, while vowing to maintain a strong military, also defended the junta’s tinkering in matters large and small - from setting price controls to calling for free-to-air TV broadcasts of all the World Cup matches.
Prayuth acknowledged criticism that the junta is “conducting populist policies, such as adjusting the tax structure and capping energy prices.” He explained that they are in reality “temporary measures to relieve hardship on the people.”
General Prayuth also announced the ruling military body will not renew a controversial and costly scheme in which farmers pledge rice to the government in exchange for being paid 40 percent above the market price.
Farmers are owed $2.5 billion for the rice, and the army has begun making payments.
The crop-pledging plan was a centerpiece of the administration of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, but was criticized for leaving unsold rice rotting in warehouses amid allegations of corruption. A court ruling on key elements of the plan put pressure on her towards the end of her time in office.
One goal of the coup, according to a junta spokesman, is to eradicate the influence of the Shinawatra family from Thai politics. Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire telecommunications tycoon, was deposed in the previous coup in 2006.
General Prayuth, an ardent royalist and career soldier, is appealing for patience, while noting the junta is enjoying a “honeymoon period,” which he said he hopes lasts longer.
The general said “we have to return happiness to the people, to all groups.” He added that the junta will not do anything that will impact, in the long term, the country’s fiscal system. He asked his audience to tell him if he orders anything wrong because, he said, “I am willing to listen to all comments.”
But criticism of the junta is effectively muted, as the media are operating under military censorship, while the army and police vow to arrest those whose comments can incite unrest or are deemed to be political.
Since the May 22 coup, several hundred people have been summoned by the military and most of them detained for a week or two. They include politicians, academics, activists and journalists. Some of those released say they had to sign a document stating they will not engage in political activity or leave the country.
There have been some arrests of those displaying defiance against the coup at peaceful, small rallies. But a significant portion of the urban, middle class appears to support the military’s takeover.