Staying longer may hurt faith in junta, government

Staying longer may hurt faith in junta, government
Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha reversed his previous statement saying he had no interest in the signature-gathering campaign to seek a referendum on whether reforms should be completed before the next election.

Political factions have warned that the credibility of the National Council for Peace and Order and the National Reform Council will be hit hard if they insist on holding on to power by extending the roadmap to complete the reform process.

Their comments came hot on the heels of Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha's remark on Thursday that he might stay on for a longer period than the current plan if people want him to do so to push through difficult reforms.

But Prayut, who is also the NCPO leader, stressed that all parties concerned must ensure he would be protected from countervailing pressures in such an event.

Yesterday, Prayut reiterated that he had no desire to extend his time as head of the government beyond the original plan which earlier indicated that there would be a general election to return power to the people sometime next year. Yet, the premier repeated his statement that he would be willing to stay on longer if that was the people's choice.

While thanking those who supported him staying in power longer, he said: "As the nation's leader, I could neither accept nor reject their wish. However, if it's possible, maybe what the people have to do is to [hold a referendum to determine if there will be two years of reform before the next general election].

"That's what I said. It doesn't mean that I have already accepted their request. If I don't have to do this [the reform], it'll be easier for me because that's the next government's business.

"On the other hand, if they want me to push through the reform work, they'll have to come up with a method that makes it acceptable for the outside world. Please do not say that I want to stay for a longer time. That's not right. No, I don't want to."

Prayut said it would be up to the Election Commission to decide whether such a referendum could be held.

Red-shirt leader Nattawut Saikua said extending the roadmap would destroy the creditability of the NCPO and Prayut.

"They have confirmed that everything would go in accordance with the roadmap. Now, it's questionable," he said.

"This is not to mention how Thailand would look in the eyes of the international community. Any confidence that we will return to democracy will be shaken."

He also suggested that members of the so-called "five rivers of power" - the NCPO, the Cabinet, the NRC, the National Legislative Assembly, and Constitution Drafting Committee - stand at the next election if any of them wanted to stay on longer. If they won support, they could stay for another four years, not just two as planned.

Red-shirt leader Weng Tojirakarn was worried some people would be upset and perceived that Prayut failed to keep his word.

"In the roadmap, it says there will be an election to return to democracy and the NCPO and NRC will leave. But now they are testing public sentiment to see if the roadmap should be further extended. People won't be happy if the premier breaks his promise," Weng said.

Regarding the "Reform before Election" campaign proposed by some members of the NRC, Weng firmly opposed the idea and said the NRC lacked the legitimacy to do that.

He remarked that many of the council's members were once part of the People's Democratic Reform Committee. So having them take charge of reform was nothing but imposing the PDRC's ideology and approach on the entire country.

Akanat Promphan, the PDRC spokesman, said both the NRC and the NCPO should focus on their immediate tasks rather than on trying to prolong their stay.

"The NRC should be working against time and complete their missions according to the roadmap. Now it's the time that they report to the people what they have done that contributes to the reform and not talk about the prolonging their stay," he said.

Buddha Issara, a Buddhist monk who helped lead the street protests that led to the coup last year, said he would collect 50,000 signatures in support of a referendum that would determine whether to postpone the next election - scheduled for September 2016 at the earliest - until the junta's reform process is complete. "I support [the idea] of reform before an election," Buddha Issara said.

Phra Suthep Paphakaro, formerly Suthep Thaugsuban of the Democrat Party who led rallies to bring down the Yingluck government, said he would not return to the political arena after leaving the monkhood but would focus on public sector work aimed at improving the rural community's economic standing and general well-being.

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