BANGKOK – Thailand’s Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha has given his first policy speech to the Thai National Legislative Assembly on Friday (Sep 12), unveiling a set of reforms aimed at bringing about economic and social stability to the kingdom.
During the two-hour address, the prime minister repeatedly called for help from the public in bringing an end to Thailand’s socio-political divide. He vowed to eliminate social gaps, promote education, tighten law enforcement and weed out corruption.
With potential elections scheduled for the end of 2015, Prayuth admitted time would play a part in carrying out comprehensive national reforms. “Whatever can be done first, will be carried out swiftly and continuously to bring an effective outcome. Time is not our weakness, it’s a challenge for us,” he said.
Throughout the address, the prime minister continually returned to the need to eliminate corruption and create a working environment based on transparency. However, he is off to a rocky start with allegations of corruption marring the current renovations of Government House.
Regardless, he has called for the public’s trust in his administration. “The law will do its job, serving justice and gaining trust from the people, giving chances to everyone,” said Prayuth. “I am not doing this for any individual. I’m doing this for all Thais.”
For now, the cabinet has now been handed clear guidelines for the task ahead. But General Prayuth’s no-nonsense command of parliament shows that he is still very much the man in charge and ultimately the one responsible for the interim government’s success.
New Property and Inheritance Taxes Being Considered
Prayuth said that his military-backed government aimed to broaden the tax base in the new fiscal year from October, bringing in an inheritance tax among other changes.
In his first speech to an appointed parliament after seizing power in a military coup in May and becoming prime minister in August, Prayuth said only 20 million people out of Thailand’s population of about 68 million pay taxes.
“The tax issue is aimed at promoting fairness, with a limited impact on low-income earners… Those tax (benefits) that favor the rich will be terminated,” Prayuth said.
In a wide-ranging, two-hour policy speech that was short on detail, Prayuth gave no indication on how long he would need to push through reforms he plans for Thailand.
He has said that a general election could be held late next year, after a reform of the electoral system, although some political analysts believe he could be in power longer.
legal, Psychological and Technological Measures to Protect the Monarchy
Prayuth said his regime would use legal, psychological and technological measures to protect the monarchy against defamation in his first official policy speech as premier.
The warning came as Amnesty International said an “unprecedented” number of people have been charged with insulting the royals since the coup, with 14 Thais indicted under the controversial lese majeste law in less than four months.
Revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 86, is already protected by one of the world’s toughest royal defamation laws – anyone convicted of insulting the king, queen, heir or regent faces up to 15 years in prison on each count. “We will use appropriate legal measures, psychological measures and communication technology against ill-intentioned people,” Prayuth said in the televised speech to members of the National Legislative Assembly, without elaborating on the exact methods of scrutiny.
“The monarchy is the key pillar of our country, to create national unity,” Prayuth said Friday.
Last month, a 28-year-old musician was sentenced to 15 years in jail for writing insulting Facebook posts about the monarchy between 2010 and 2011. In another recent case a taxi driver was jailed for two and a half years after his passenger, a university lecturer who recorded their conversation on a mobile phone, accused him of expressing anti-royal views, Amnesty said.
Under the law anyone can make an accusation of insulting the monarchy and the police are duty-bound to investigate. Critics say the legislation has been politicised, noting that many of those charged in recent years were linked to the “Red Shirts” protest movement, which is broadly supportive of fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
On Thursday, junta spokesman Winthai Suvaree denied there had been an increase in royal defamation charges under military rule. Prayuth has said the army was forced to take control after months of protests against former premier and Thaksin’s younger sister Yingluck left 28 people dead and hundreds injured, effectively paralysing her government. But critics say the protests provided a pretext for a power grab in the latest chapter of Thailand’s deep political divide.
The long-running political conflict broadly pits a Bangkok-based middle class and royalist elite, backed by parts of the military and judiciary, against rural and working-class voters loyal to Thaksin. Thaksin was toppled in a coup in 2006 and lives in self-exile to avoid prison for a corruption conviction.