Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday stated for the first time that he was ready to remain in power for another two years to complete the national reforms.
But he said he needed protection from criticisms both inside and outside Thailand if his government were to continue running the country. The PM expected to be accused of wanting to extend his time in power.
"If everybody wants me to stay on, I will do it. But you should help protect me from [criticisms] both outside and in the country. People will accuse me of wanting to extend my time in power. I don't want power and I don't gain any benefit. I just want to make the country better," Prayut said.
Prayut's remarks came as a group of National Reform Council (NRC) members yesterday announced their plan to start a signature campaign to gauge public opinion on whether reforms should be completed before the next general election.
Paiboon Nititawan, an NRC member, said considerable public support for the idea would lead to a national referendum. Speaking at a press conference at the Parliament building yesterday, he said the government and relevant state agencies would not initiate such a survey due to possible allegations of conflict of interest.
Paiboon said his group would suggest that the draft constitution be revised to require that a national referendum be held to determine whether the voters want the reforms to be completed within two years, before the next election is held.
Prayut said his government would not get involved in the issue and he insisted that it was up to the electorate to decide if the junta should remain in office while the reforms are being completed.
He said he was indifferent to the idea of some NRC members that he remain in power while the reforms are completed but that his overstay must be legitimate.
According to the roadmap set in the interim constitution, the next general election will take place after the new constitution comes into effect next year. He said the people who want him to stay should find a way for that to happen, such as supporting the idea in a referendum. He suggested that the draft charter would need to be revised in order to allow him and his government to remain in power for the sake of reforms.
"You want democracy, don't you? You say I am not democratic because I was not elected. You admonish me every day and foreigners keep asking me when there will be an election. It's a matter for all Thai people, not me, to decide Thailand's future," Prayut said. He admitted that despite significant domestic support for him to extend his time as PM, such a notion would not be welcomed by the international community.
The PM attended a joint meeting of the Cabinet, the NRC and the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) at Parliament yesterday on the government's achievements.
He and his Cabinet were expected to face tough questioning at the meeting, but the NRC and NLA members instead gave them words of encouragement and support.
Paiboon and other NRC members such as constitution drafter, Tuenjai Sinthuvnik, and Niran Pantharakit asked Prayut if he could extend his stay in office to set in motion the reform agenda set by the NRC. They also raised concerns that if the country is returned to civilian government too soon, it could fall back into yet another crisis.
Before the meeting, each NLA and NRC member was given a piece of paper and a booklet on the government's achievements and they were asked to submit their questions to the government in writing.
It was considered an unusual way for members of parliament to scrutinise the government or ask critical questions about its performance.
The PM was the first to speak, explaining how the government is working according to the roadmap and is at the second stage, which includes the process of drafting the new constitution. He explained that the government can exercise its power by using Article 44 of the 2014 provisional constitution to administrate the country, but now every issue can be solved this way. He asked reformers to carry out the government's plan.
Prayut insisted that national reform is highly necessary to push the country forward. "National reform is a heart, I have started to stop the blood, now we need to give it saline water, and in the future we must add Vitamin C to strengthen it [the heart] in order for it to explore the outside world such as the AEC [ASEAN Economic Community] and the bigger community," the PM said metaphorically.
If we do not push for national reform, we will go back to the same loop; however, national reform requires co-operation from everybody and I cannot do this alone, Prayut added.