Thailand will hold a general election next year, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha told U.S. business leaders at a gala dinner in Washington.
Prayuth, who took over the Thai government after leading a military coup that overthrew then-Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in May 2014, did not announce a specific date for polls when he addressed the U.S. Chamber of Commerce here on Tuesday night.
“What you want to see is democracy. It will certainly come, I assure you, next year, I will announce the election day,” Prayuth told his audience that included business executives and government officials. “We have been talking for three years, you have seen our strong intention.”
“It's not easy for Thailand,” he said. “Next year, the election day will be announced, after other related laws are completed, following the road map. When the related laws are completed, we have 150 days, then we can announce [an election date]."
While meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House on Monday, Prayuth assured the U.S. leader that he would set a firm date for elections in 2018.
“Indeed, it was me who initiated the discussion and assured him that Thailand will abide by its roadmap to return to democracy,” Prayuth told Thai journalists following the meeting.
On multiple occasions over the past three years, the junta under Prayuth has postponed elections, which the military government has touted as central to its roadmap for steering Thailand back toward democracy.
Prayuth has rejected criticism that he has been ambiguous about a time-frame for elections.
“I did not mislead anyone or cover anything up,” he told the reporters, according to the Bangkok Post. “I don’t want anyone asking me about it anymore.”
In his Tuesday speech at the chamber, Prayuth challenged his critics.
“I have never done any harm in anyone’s business in Thailand, I have only made it better. My job is to solve all problems and find solutions to conflicts ... not wanting to use power, not wanting to violate human rights or set limits to people’s freedom,” he said. “Ninety percent of Thai people have not suffered because of me, but only a few people have because they go against the law.”
Stronger security alliance
Bilateral cooperation on security issues were also on the agenda of Prayuth’s meeting with Trump.
“We work, of course, hand-in-hand on our security defense cooperation to help ensure that our citizens are safeguarded from terrorism and other threats,” Prayuth told reporters before the meeting at the White House.
A joint statement issued by the two leaders afterwards called for a stronger alliance on security-related matters and increased economic prosperity. Among security-related issues, Prayuth and Trump touched on the South China Sea, the Korean Peninsula and the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh.
They highlighted the sea’s importance as a major international shipping route.
“They also concurred on the need for a cooperative approach to ensuring a peaceful, stable and sustainable South China Sea,” the joint statement said.
The leaders expressed “grave concern” about North Korea’s unprecedented nuclear and ballistic missile tests and called for the implementation of U.N. Security Council resolutions to create a safe, denuclearized Korean Peninsula.
They also discussed humanitarian assistance to Rohingya affected by violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
Prayuth and Trump said they welcomed “the Myanmar government’s commitment to end the violence [and] ensure the safe return of displaced persons.”
The joint statement also said the two nations would work together to strengthen Thailand’s efforts to combat human trafficking.
“We must counter human trafficking, which I think is a severe issue. I have managed to have either businesses or officials be punished and to take care of victims, including those involved in illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing,” Prayuth told the chamber.
He also touted efforts to grow Thai’s economy.
“We are trying to increase our trade value in the next year to reach $8.5 billion,” he said.
As part of that effort, Thailand’s Siam Cement Group signed two memoranda of understanding to buy 155,000 tons of coal from U.S. companies.
Prayuth praised a group of more than 20 businesses that have invested about $6 billion and created 50,000 to 60,000 jobs.
“Today, we plan to increase our investment by $8.3 billion and employ more than 60,000 more. We have started projects in petrochemical, agriculture, food processing and fishery products,” he said.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Gen. Prawit Wongsuwon announced that Thailand would resume purchasing U.S. weapons after sales were suspended following the 2014 coup.
Among the weapons expected to be purchased are Black Hawk helicopters and Harpoon missile systems.