BANGKOK - Thailand's junta approved on Friday a 250-member council to draw up political reforms and approve a new constitution, main steps in a military plan for a general election late next year.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the army chief who led a May 22 coup, picked the members of the council himself but declined to release their names, saying they needed royal approval first.
“The NCPO has chosen the 250 candidates and the names will be forwarded to His Majesty the King for endorsement,” Prayuth told reporters on Friday, referring to the junta, formally known as the National Council for Peace and Order.
“There are academics, lawyers and [members of] social organizations so it should be viewed in a positive light,” Prayuth said.
The junta has said the country needs to overhaul its political system but it has offered few details of how.
Thailand has been roiled by political turmoil for much of the last decade as the largely rural-based supporters of populist former premier Thaksin Shinawatra vie for power with the Bangkok-based royalist establishment.
Prayuth's coup in May ousted the government of Thaksin's sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, and their supporters fear the junta's reforms will be aimed at preventing the Shinawatra family and their allies from regaining power.
Telecommunications billionaire Thaksin became prime minister in 2001 and was toppled by the army in 2006. He has lived in self-imposed exile since 2008 to avoid a corruption sentence but remains hugely influential and popular, with his parties winning every election since 2001.
Members of Yingluck's Puea Thai Party and lawmakers from the pro-establishment Democrat Party have not been included in the reform council.
An analyst said any back-sliding on the military's plan for an election could backfire.
“If the junta does not return power as promised in a year's time then Puea Thai can claim that the junta is playing dirty and get people on their side to challenge the junta,” said Kan Yuenyong, an analyst at the Siam Intelligence Unit think tank.
“The Democrat Party, on the other hand, needs this military government to get rid of Thaksin-aligned parties because if they [the Democrat Party] go to the polls they will lose again.”
Prayuth has said reforms would focus on 11 areas including government administration, energy and justice. The council is also expected to change the electoral system.
Its proposals will need to be approved by a military-dominated National Legislative Assembly.
Prayuth has said elections will be held in late 2015 after a new constitution is written and the reforms are enacted.