Thai junta chief threatens to hold onto power
BANGKOK // Thailand’s junta chief warned detractors on Wednesday that he would hold onto power indefinitely if they continued to oppose his plans for the kingdom in a heated press briefing ahead of an overseas trip.
Prayuth Chan-ocha, who was appointed as prime minister a few months after seizing power in a coup last May, appeared irritated when he met reporters shortly before flying to Brunei, frequently raising his voice and shaking his head.
“If the situation remains like this I can tell you that I will hold on to power for a long time,” he said after denouncing those who criticise the country’s lack of democratic progress.
“Why is there all this fuss about elections?” he asked. “[If there’s no election] will anyone die?”
The former army chief imposed martial law two days before the military takeover that followed the ousting of Yingluck Shinawatra’s democratically elected government after months of often violent street protests.
He has vowed to return power to an elected civilian government but only once reforms to tackle corruption and curb the power of political parties are codified in a new constitution.
Rights groups say basic freedoms have fallen off a cliff since the military took over with political gatherings banned, the press muzzled and tough lese majeste legislation – the crime of insulting a sovereign power – increasingly used to stifle political opposition.
Gen Prayuth, a blunt-speaking career army man, has little time for such criticisms.
“I want to tell all of you that I am not discouraged but I am getting more angry. I am a fighter. So don’t say anything to discourage me,” he said on Wednesday.
Earlier this month the Thai Journalists Association criticised Gen Prayuth for saying he wanted to punch a reporter “in the face” when he was pressed on his government’s results.
In December he was also filmed throwing a banana skin at a camera man, though that incident caused more merriment than concern.
His off-the-cuff remarks often spark a mixture of surprise and derision.
This week he was lampooned online –– and even in some sections of the mainstream media –– for insisting Thailand under martial law was still a “99.99 per cent” democracy.
* Agence France-Presse
Updated: March 25, 2015 04:00 AM