By Amy Sawitta Lefevre
Thailand’s ruling military government lifted a nationwide curfew on Friday to bolster the country’s vital tourism industry and promised to install an interim government in August.
General Prayuth Chan-ocha, who heads the council that has overseen the country since taking over on May 22, said that power would be handed to a government in August. That, he said, was part of a three-phase plan of reconciliation, formation of a government and elections.
“A government will be set up by August, or at the very latest September,” Prayuth told a meeting devoted to the 2015 national budget. He did not say whether the government would be made up of civilians or military officials.
In an evening television announcement, the National Council for Peace and Order said conditions had improved enough – after months of periodically violent street demonstrations – to lift the curfew across the country.
“As the situation has improved and there have been no incidents that can lead to violence … and in order to improve tourism, the curfew will be lifted in all remaining provinces,” the council announcement said.
The curfew, imposed throughout Thailand after the coup, was lifted over the past week in 30 provinces, including the main tourist destinations. It had remained in place from midnight to 4am in 47 provinces, including Bangkok.
In a rambling 40-minute address to the nation, Prayuth issued a wide range of promises to make the economy more efficient, streamline energy policy and improve the lives of ordinary Thais. He pleaded for more time to achieve the military’s aims.
The army staged a bloodless coup after six months of turmoil pitting mainly rural supporters of ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra against her Bangkok-based, royalist opponents.
In his comments to military officials, Prayuth repeated that a temporary constitution would be drafted within three months. It would take at least a year until a new general election could take place.
“In the next three months we must do everything properly, whether it is the constitution or other matters. Everything for the first phase should be complete by August,” Prayuth said.
Most Bangkok residents have taken the coup in stride. Business has gone on more or less as usual in offices and restaurants and public transport remain packed.
Lifting the curfew was a key element to coax back hesitant tourists – an industry that accounts for 10 percent of the economy.
The junta this week also made a concession to Thailand’s many soccer fans as the World Cup got underway in Brazil, ordering broadcasting authorities to ensure all games were shown on free-to-air channels.
CRACKDOWN ON DISSENT
But the military has acted firmly to curb dissent. Soldiers, barely visible in most districts, have been quickly mobilised to snuff out any bid to stage protests.
The military has rounded up at least 300 politicians, activists and journalists. Many are linked to exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted by a 2006 coup but is alleged by opponents to have directed from abroad the government led by his sister Yingluck.
On Thursday, police charged prominent activist Sombat Boonngamanong with inciting unrest, violating cyber laws and defying the junta’s orders. He had spearheaded an online campaign promoting street protests against the coup.
Thailand has been polarised for nearly a decade between supporters of Yingluck Shinawatra and her brother, former telecommunications tycoon Thaksin, on the one hand and ultra- royalist groups, mostly made up of middle-class Bangkok residents, on the other.
A court found Yingluck guilty of abuse of power on May 7, for transferring the country’s security chief to another post so that a relative could benefit from related job moves, and ordered her to step down after months of street protests aimed at toppling her government.
Military leader Prayuth says he stepped in to restore order. He has made the economy and the welfare of farmers a priority.
The army has begun payments to hundreds of thousands of farmers under a costly rice-buying scheme, one of the key policies that brought Yingluck to power in 2011.
Prayuth told Friday’s meeting that the military had no plans to keep the programme, which opponents said incurred big losses. Farmers are owed more than $2.5 billion under the scheme, a key element in a court ruling that removed Yingluck from office.