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Thai Junta Chief Announces Temporary Constitution


Thailand's Army commander Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha (L) arrives at the Royal Thai Army Club in Bangkok, June 13, 2014.

Thailand's Army commander Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha (L) arrives at the Royal Thai Army Club in Bangkok, June 13, 2014.

The chief of the military junta who has led Thailand since last month's coup says a temporary constitution has been drafted. But no details have been released yet.

Army General Prayuth Chan-ocha says work on a temporary constitution has been completed and it has undergone a legal review.

The army chief says the charter will be submitted for royal endorsement next month. After that, he predicts it will be another two months before the temporary document comes into effect.

Prayuth, known as an ardent royalist, disclosed no details of the interim constitution during his nationally televised broadcast Friday, except to assure the nation that Thailand's king will remain head of state.

General Prayuth says he expects a draft of a permanent constitution can be ready in 10 to 12 months.

After that, the military leader says, “free and fair elections” will then be held. He predicted parliamentary elections in October of next year (2015), but urged patience until sweeping reforms are implemented, which he expects will take about 300 days.

“Please take it easy,” the army chief urged. “We need some time for reforms.”

Prayuth also announced that new urgent laws will soon be drafted, and he summoned representatives of all ministries to join that discussion.

The general himself currently holds all executive and legislative powers after seizing control of Thailand 37 days ago in a bloodless coup that abrogated most of the existing constitution.

It was Thailand's 19th successful or attempted putsch since the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932.

Since then Prayuth has issued dozens of decrees on matters large and small - from making payouts to millions of cash-strapped farmers in a rice subsidy scheme bungled by the previous government to ordering free telecasts of all World Cup football matches.

The junta, known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), has also summoned hundreds of academics, activists, politicians and journalists for questioning. Political activity is banned and news media operate under military scrutiny.

Prayuth's Friday evening addresses have become a regular event since the May 22 coup. This week he defended the continuation of martial law, imposed three days prior to the coup, contending that “limitations on freedom are few.”

He also warned the media not to report unverified information about the junta.

He said this after denying that he had conspired to overthrow the elected government through consultation with a former deputy prime minister who led anti-government protests earlier this year.

Last Saturday, Suthep Thaugsuban boasted to supporters at a banquet that he had been advising Prayuth since 2010 on how to get rid of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Ms. Yingluck is the sister of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was deposed in a previous coup in 2006.

One of the goals of the junta, according to its supporters and opponents, is to permanently eradicate Thaksin's influence from Thai politics.

Thaksin, a telecommunications mogul, is in self-imposed exile to avoid imprisonment for a corruption conviction. The parties he has backed have won every national election in Thailand since 2001.

The army chief pledged that reforms will extend through Thailand's bureaucracy, reputed for its corruption. All public servants must exhibit morals and virtues, Prayuth declared in his weekly speech.

The general cautioned that the junta's timeline for the second phase of reform could be derailed if there is chaos or violence. There have been no large-scale demonstrations opposing the coup and a scarcity of political violence during the past month.

Dissidents have resorted to a cat-and-mouse game with soldiers and police. They have organized flash mobs at shopping malls, signaling their defiance by displaying the three-fingered salute popularized by the Hunger Games movies, eating sandwiches in public and silently reading copies of George Orwell's dystopian novel 1984. Such seemingly innocuous acts have resulted in arrests, making such gestures even more popular among coup opponents.

Leaders of a democracy organization in exile, Free Thai, formed this past week and told VOA they will emulate the teachings of Gandhi and the Dalai Lama in opposing the junta.

They rejected as a farce a public-opinion poll showing significant support for the military takeover and General Prayuth as the favorite candidate to be Thailand's next prime minister.

Prayuth, in his weekly address, mentioned to the top two leaders of the anti-coup movement by name. He said the pair of former government ministers, Jarupong Ruangsuwan and Jakarapob Penkair, should return to Thailand and surrender.

Otherwise, the junta chief warned, the number of charges they face would continue to grow.

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