BANGKOK – Thailand's coup leader-turned-prime minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha made his first major policy statement Friday in a 2-hour televised speech that described his vision for the country.
Prayuth's 11-point plan is the latest in a series of moves by the junta to consolidate power on its own terms, starting with the May 22 coup that overthrew an elected government.
Last month, the junta's hand-picked legislature named Prayuth as new prime minister — an expected outcome since he was the only candidate. He then formed a Cabinet in which his trusted allies from the armed forces were given key portfolios.
Prayuth has said the army needed to intervene to halt violent protests that had paralyzed the government. He has vowed to restore democracy after making sweeping political reforms, which critics say are designed to purge the influence of the ousted ruling party and benefit an elite minority allied to the establishment that has failed to win national elections for more than a decade.
Here is a selection of the policies Prayuth announced Friday:
PROTECTION AND PRAISE OF THE MONARCHY
Prayuth is an ardent defender of the Thai monarchy, having served for years in an infantry regiment known as the Queen's Guard. He said his government "considers it a crucial duty to glorify this institute with loyalty and to protect their prerogatives." Thailand's lese majeste law, which bans defamation of the king, the queen and the regent, is considered the harshest in the world. It mandates a jail term of up to 15 years. Prayuth vowed to use a variety of means to halt "those making impetuous, careless comments or with bad intentions undermine the nation's major institution."
ENDING AN INSURGENCY
Prayuth vowed to speedily solve violence in southern Thailand, where more than 5,000 people have died since an Islamic insurgency flared in 2004. Different governments have failed to stop the violence in the three southernmost provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat, the only Muslim-majority areas in predominantly Buddhist Thailand. Last year, the government signed a breakthrough deal with Muslim insurgents to hold talks on easing the violence. The separatists suspended the talks months later because the government had not responded to their demand that it free prisoners, according to Thai authorities. Prayuth's National Security Council chief, Thawil Pliensri, said this week that the talks would resume.
HUMAN TRAFFICKING AND THE SEX TRADE
Prayuth vowed to "prevent and solve the problem of human trafficking, migrants entering the country illegally ... (and) tourism that focuses on sex and children." He said his government will improve laws and increase monitoring to tackle the problem, which was highlighted in June when the U.S. State Department placed Thailand on a blacklist for failing to do enough to fight human trafficking. The U.S. estimated that there are tens of thousands of trafficking victims in Thailand, mostly migrants from neighboring countries who are forced or defrauded into working in the sex trade, commercial fishing, garment production, factories or domestic work.
A string of recent scandals has lifted the lid on Thailand's largely unregulated commercial surrogacy industry, which has grown over the past decade. Prayuth said his government will work "to prevent and solve the problem of teen pregnancy, the medical and ethical problems of surrogacy and organ and stem cell transplants." The government has vowed to shut down the commercial surrogacy industry and is expected to pass a law this year prohibiting it.
Prayuth has said the coup was needed to fight deeply rooted corruption. He said Friday he would seek "to strictly prevent and suppress corruption of civil servants at every level." He announced plans to modernize and simplify Thailand's bureaucracy by eliminating layers of red tape, introducing new technology, and promoting "the idea of pride and honesty among civil servants through legal measures."