BANGKOK - Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha on Thursday set out broad criteria for the selection of a 250-member council to draw up sweeping political reforms and approve a new constitution, saying people from all walks of life would be included.
Prayuth was speaking in Bangkok to mark the beginning of a selection process for the National Reform Council. It will draft political and economic reforms, including reshaping energy policy, education, public health, the media and other matters, he said. "We want people who can really work and we won't exclude anyone. We want people from all walks of life," Prayuth said, adding that the council would be set up by Oct. 2. "Committees will have to choose people carefully and transparently." The aims of the council mirror demands made by pro-establishment, anti-government protesters who took to the streets of Bangkok for six months from late last year to try to oust then Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
They wanted sweeping political reforms and an unelected council of notable worthies to oversee the changes.
Yingluck, the sister of self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, was forced from office by a court ruling in May and her government was ousted in a military coup days later.
The Shinawatras' supporters say the reforms are partly aimed at ending the political influence of Thaksin, a former telecoms tycoon who upset the establishment with populist policies that won him the votes of the poor. He lives in self-exile but retains huge support, especially in the countryside.
More than 7,000 people have signed up to join the committee which will focus on 11 areas of reform. The NRC is expected to approve a new constitution in 2015.
The army denies accusations that it sided with anti-government, staunchly royalist protesters whose action led to Yingluck's downfall but it has also gone after Yingluck's supporters from the pro-Shinawatra "red shirt" movement.
Many group leaders have gone to ground and some have left Thailand.
Since taking control, Prayuth has rolled out a temporary constitution that grants the military absolute powers and hand-picked an interim parliament stacked with military figures that subsequently appointed him prime minister last week.
Prayuth, whose speeches are tinged with nationalist overtones, sees himself as the guardian of 'Thainess' which, by his definition, means embracing the trilogy of nation, religion and king.
But critics say his rhetoric, including talk of orchestrating "social harmony" and the preservation of moral order and his wide-ranging reform plans, are unrealistic and unsustainable.
Prayuth has said that a general election will be held around October 2015, which gives him time to tackle a host of troubles. "Corruption, the economy, taxes, drugs, the illegal encroachment of forests ... Once I have solved our problems I will go," Prayuth said.