BANGKOK – Coup leader and Gen. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has “clarified” a joint statement he made with US President Donald Trump that a long-awaited election would be held next year.
The leaders met at the White House last week and issued a joint statement.
“President Trump welcomed Thailand’s commitment to the roadmap, which, upon completion of relevant organic laws as stipulated by the constitution, will lead to free and fair elections in 2018,” read the October 3 statement, which was published on the White House and Thai Foreign Ministry websites.
Upon arriving home, General Prayut explained the official statement to local media, but appeared to contradict himself within the same sentence.
“President Trump didn’t ask me about the issue, but I was able to assure him of the current administration’s commitment to the roadmap, informing him that there will be elections by the end of next year,” General Prayut was quoted by the Bangkok Post as saying.
“But by that, I mean an election date would be announced late next year, From then, the election will be held 150 days following the announcement.”
The “roadmap” to democracy includes a series of organic laws Thailand’s military Government needs to pass to before holding an election, a process that is likely to take another at least 12 months.
That will mean elections in 2019 at the earliest.
If so, the unelected military Government will have served more than the standard four-year term of office.
Other junta leaders tried to explain the Prime Minister’s comments.
“It’s not that he said the election will be held next year … when the election date will be is up to the completion of the organic laws,” Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan told The Nation.
Junta spokesman Lieutenant General Sansern Kaewkamnerd declined to discuss when an election would be held, telling the Bangkok Post that only the opposition Pheu Thai Party seemed to be confused by the issue.
Thai election repeatedly postponed since coup
This backflip over elections is just the latest in a string of broken election promises, often delivered overseas.
The military ousted the Government of Yingluck Shinawatra in a coup in 2014.
Coup-leader General Prayut installed himself as prime minister of the junta — known officially as the National Council for Peace and Order — with a cabinet stacked with senior military officers.
During his visit to Japan in February 2015, General Prayut said: “We plan to hold elections in Thailand at the end of this year or early next.”
By the end of 2015, the timeframe had slipped.
On the sidelines of a speech to the United Nations General Assembly, the Prime Minister assured then-UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that the junta was committed to the democratic roadmap and would hold elections in 2017.
In January 2016, the message was the same.
“No matter whether the draft constitution passes the referendum or not, the Government will hold the election in 2017 according to our roadmap,” General Prayuth told reporters.
By Liam Cochrane
ABC News AU