Thai Coup Leader Says No Timeline for Return to Elections

Thai coup leader Prayuth Chan-Ocha said a night-time curfew will remain in force and his junta will enact political reforms, without detailing any changes or providing a timeline for when new elections may be held.

Prayuth made the announcement in a speech in Bangkok today, shortly after he was officially endorsed as the nation’s leader by royal command. He said he would focus on solving the nation’s problems, starting with making overdue payments to rice farmers under the previous government’s subsidy program.

“The council’s priority is to maintain peace and order,” Prayuth said in the televised address. “We will set up new organizations to reform every aspect that causes problems and conflicts.”

The army seized power on May 22 after months of street protests against the government headed by Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra. While Yingluck was forced to step down by the Constitutional Court on May 7, her opponents continued to push for the removal of the entire government in order to erase the influence of the Shinawatra family from politics, raising the risk of a protracted period of uncertainty.

Prayuth will name an interim prime minister and legislative council to implement electoral reforms and measures aimed at bolstering the economy. He met yesterday with the head of the central bank and the stock exchange to discuss measures to safeguard growth in Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy.

A nationwide curfew is discouraging tourists who were already wary about visiting the capital because of political violence that has killed at least 28 since November. There were protests over the weekend in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, in the north of the country, in defiance of martial law that was imposed two days before the coup.

Coup Opposition

The army has been surprised by opposition to the coup in Bangkok, said Kevin Hewison, director of the Asia Research Centre at Murdoch University in Perth. “Prayuth seems to have underestimated the level of support for democracy and electoral politics as well as the rejection of military authoritarianism.”

Thailand’s benchmark SET Index of stocks fell 0.6 percent to 1,388.15 as of 4:06 p.m. local time, extending its decline since last week’s coup to 1.2 percent. The baht fell 0.1 percent to 32.597 per dollar, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

In his address, the army chief said that “everyone was suffering” as a result of the past six months of political uncertainty, and that it was time to “restore political and social stability, as well as confidence.”

‘Bad Shape’

The military junta takes charge of an economy that shrank 0.6 percent in the first quarter as seven months of unrest saps consumer spending and industrial production.

“The task at hand now is to boost the economy, which is in pretty bad shape,” Thanavath Phonvichai, an economist at the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce in Bangkok, said yesterday by phone. “Low-income earners have no money, which is mainly a result of delayed payments under the rice-buying program.”

Prayuth, who cited the nation’s prolonged political divide in seizing power, dissolved the Senate May 24, removing the last democratic institution in the country and giving the military junta more freedom to put new laws in place. He put Air Chief Marshal Prajin Juntong in charge of the key economic ministries the day before.

Military Detention

Earlier today, he released 13 leaders of anti-government protests. The move came a day after King Bhumibol Adulyadej endorsed the military takeover.

Suthep Thaugsuban was released from military detention after being summoned by prosecutors on a treason charge, according to the official Twitter page of one of his allies, Suriyasai Katasila, who jointly organized the rallies.

Prayuth said he had no choice other than to take power after meetings called by the army with key figures from both sides of the political divide failed to find a solution. The coup threatens to increase the deep polarization that has taken hold in Thailand over the past decade between the largely rural-based supporters of Thaksin, who was ousted in a 2006 coup, and his royalist opponents.

The Senate had been Thailand’s only lawmaking body since December, when Yingluck dissolved the lower house of Parliament and called an election to appease anti-government protesters. After past coups, including the 2006 putsch that ousted Thaksin, the new constitution included a clause protecting the coup-makers from prosecution.

Yingluck Released

The junta has moved to detain key figures from Yingluck’s former government, leaders of rival street protest movements, academics and a former protest leader who once seized Bangkok’s airports. Yingluck was later released and is safe at an undisclosed location, the Thai-language Dailynews newspaper reported. Army spokesman Winthai Suvaree declined to confirm yesterday whether Yingluck had been released.

The junta has threatened to shut down media outlets and social media platforms that allow the broadcast or publication of content that might incite unrest, and international news channels remain blocked.

New Protests

Protests against the coup took place yesterday at Victory Monument in Bangkok and in Chiang Mai in the country’s north. Soldiers and protesters faced off outside Amarin Plaza in Bangkok’s Ratchaprasong shopping district, the site of a deadly crackdown on pro-Thaksin protesters in 2010 that left more than 90 people dead.

Bangkok Mass Transit System Pcl temporarily closed three stations on its Bangkok Skytrain system earlier today because of concern that anti-coup protesters may gather at Victory Monument.

Before the coup, anti-government protesters had been demanding an unelected council run the country to wipe out the influence of Thaksin and Yingluck, whom they accuse of corruption and using the appeal of economically damaging populist policies to win the last five elections. After Thaksin’s overthrow, it was more than a year before elections were held and civilian rule was restored.

— With assistance by Tony Jordan

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.