Thai junta chief rejects proposal to bar coup leaders from office

BANGKOK - Thailand's junta chief spoke out Thursday against a proposal from one of his own military-appointed panels that he and other key coup figures should be temporarily banned from politics once civilian rule is returned.

After seizing power last May, former army chief and now Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha set up a string of committees tasked with reforming the notoriously fractured kingdom after years of political instability and often violent street protests.

One of those panels - the Constitutional Drafting Committee (CDC) - is tasked with rewriting the country's constitution.

The military have already said that CDC members will be temporarily excluded from politics once their task is complete.

On Wednesday CDC chairman Jade Donavanik suggested that junta members and their rubber-stamp National Assembly should be among those excluded from politics for two years to prevent them from holding onto power or meddling in Thailand's future.

But Prayut gave the idea short shrift.

"Please go see what was written in the interim constitution (set up after the coup)," he told reporters Thursday.

"It only bans members of the CDC (from politics) and I agree with that," he said, adding that a ban on key junta figures now would discourage them working to reform the country.

The junta chief also rejected allegations he will refuse to let go of power.

"Don't mistrust me, it (reforms) would all end if I refused to return power," he said.

The former army chief has given mixed signals over a date for a future election, promising polls by the end of this year or the beginning of 2016, once his reforms have taken place.

He seized power after months of street protests led to the ousting of Yingluck Shinawatra's democratically elected administration.

Prayut insists his intervention and reforms will end a decade-long political crisis that broadly pits Bangkok's middle class and royalist elites, backed by parts of the military, against rural and working-class voters loyal to Yingluck and her brother Thaksin.

But critics say the military's reforms are aimed at extinguishing the political influence of the Shinawatras, whose parties have won every election since 2001.