Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday backtracked on his readiness to remain in power for another two years to complete the national reform due to negative public sentiment over the last few days.
Many political observers have come out and expressed concern over the premier's statement last week that he was ready to remain in power - if the voters wanted it.
They cautioned the junta that not following the roadmap and postponing the general election could harm the country in many ways - including deepening the divide and destroying international confidence that Thailand would return to democracy.
Prayut yesterday 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. The move, proposed by Paiboon Nititawan, a member of the National Reform Council (NRC) last week, would allow the junta administration to stay for another two years.
"Who is gathering [the signatures] and for what? I'm not interested. It's all about the roadmap. Stop asking me [about the matter]," he told reporters at Government House.
The premier yesterday held an unofficial meeting with some ministers. General Wilat Arunsri, the PM's secretary-general, revealed that the premier, in the meeting, discussed preparations for passing on work to the next government.
The Prayut administration is due to leave office in April 2016, according to their roadmap, or September 2016 if there is a referendum on the new charter draft, he said.
Wilat confirmed that they had not discussed extending the roadmap in accordance with proposals from some NRC members.
Another key figure - Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam - had also come out and signalled similar signs of retreat on putting off the election and |continuing the reform process.
"We should consider the international community. The PM has said before that we should think about our Thai traditions and history - but at the same time they shouldn't go against international norms. If we only hold on to our own way, they will lose trust. Then we won't be able to survive [in the international arena]. But then, we can't take everything from them either because we have our own traditions. We have to be in balance," said Wissanu.
He said that neither he nor anyone else in the government had heard anything about a signature gathering campaign. The idea was floated by somebody else, he said.
However, he said it was possible to include both a referendum on the charter draft and on "Reform before election" during the process of amending the interim charter. However they should also be aware of the possibility of contradictions in the results of the two referendums, he said.
Paiboon, initiator of the "Reform before election" campaign, admitted the reform process covering every issue could not be completed in a two-year time span. As a result, he agreed with the proposing goals - including what would be achieved in these two years.
Regarding the campaign, he said he had proposed holding a referendum on the campaign because he wanted the people to take part in ruling the country. However, it should be held in an open atmosphere where all sides could voice their demands.
'Stop nagging the junta about democracy'
However, Paiboon expressed the hope that international friends would stop nagging the junta about democracy if the referendum endorsed the government to continue in power.
"The news will spread throughout the world, if the referendum is passed approving the National Council for Peace and Order [NCPO] to stay in office for another two years [to undertake reforms]. No |governments will ask again about election. If they persist, it means that they don't know anything about us. They don't know that we have democracy," Paiboon said.
He reiterated that he had no reservations about proposing the campaign in the NRC meeting because many NRC members shared the same thoughts. Regarding possible perception that the reformers were trying to cling to power, he said this was the people's voice, adding the government did not have to listen to the NRC but to the people.
On the campaign of "Reform before election", Paiboon said the referendum would still need to be held either under his or the Constitution Drafting Committee's approach. They were referendums on both the draft charter and the continuation of reforms that will take two years before the general election while the other approach backed a referendum only on whether the people approve of the draft charter.
Lt-General Udomdej Sitabutr, deputy defence minister, said any extension was the voice of the people, which the PM had to consider. He said it was a pleasure to see a community [voicing opinions like this] because it reflected acknowledgement of the efforts put in by the government.
The leader of the People's Democratic Reform Committee, Somkiat Homlaor, had submitted an official letter to Paiboon supporting the campaign. He said some groups were moving to call for elections when the problems facing the country had not been resolved. This could cause damage to the country and thus he urged the completion of reforms before holding a general election.