Thailand's Prime Minister: I'm not meddling with election timetable

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Story highlights

  • Thai government pushes elections back to August-September 2016 "at the earliest"
  • Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha: "I am not trying to meddle; I don't want to be in power"
  • Military deposed former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in a coup in May 2014

(CNN)Thailand's Prime Minister says his administration remains committed to returning the country to democracy despite repeated delays in the timetable for new elections.

The government pushed back the election date again this week, from early 2016 to August-September 2016 "at the earliest" because a referendum would first need to be held on a new constitution.
    Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha told CNN just days before that announcement that there was a "roadmap" in place for democratic elections.
    "The procedure has followed the roadmap, it is already written in the interim constitution,'' he told CNN. "I reaffirm, as I always have, that our country must be fully democratic, but it must be a constitutional monarchy."
    "I am not trying to resist or delay or meddle with this at all. I don't want to be in power," he said.
    It's been one year since the Thai military, led by General Prayut, seized control in a bloodless coup following six months of street protests that engulfed the country, leaving nearly 30 people dead and hundreds more injured.

    Yingluck on trial

    Former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, deposed last May during the coup, is currently standing trial over her role in a controversial rice subsidy scheme that cost the country billions.
    General Prayut pledged that he would work to return an elected government to power. Elections were initially planned for October this year but were pushed back to early next year.
    How has Thailand changed since 2014 coup?
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    A new constitution, written by a committee appointed by the ruling junta, has been drafted, but critics say it is anti-democratic.
    It includes provisions that would allow for a non-elected person to serve as prime minister, and an electoral system that would weaken the power of the main parties and favor coalition rule.
    Experts say the provision would especially hurt the party aligned to billionaire former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra -- Yingluck's brother -- who was ousted by the military in 2006 after five years at the helm and is now living in exile.
    But the strength of criticism of the new constitution has caught the junta by surprise, says Chris Baker, author of several books on Thailand and a long-term resident of Bangkok.
    "General Prayut was not expecting the level of criticism the constitution has received," Baker told CNN. "Clearly he does not want a referendum, but he is politically naïve -- he still thinks that he can tell the people to do something and they will do it."

    Security law

    But the leadership has virtually absolute power in Thailand. The government replaced martial law with a controversial security law known as Article 44. Described by critics as a "dictator's law", it gives Prayut unchecked power over all branches of government and grants him immunity from prosecution.
    Asked how he could ensure that Thailand would not slide back to where it was in the lead-up to the coup -- with political deadlock and a violent split between the so-called red shirts (Thaksin supporters) and yellow shirts (Democratic Party supporters) -- Prayut said: "I am confident in what I am doing now, but whether it will be successful or not is up to the Thai people. They must determine their own future."
    But for some in Thailand there is a feeling the military may keep the reins of power longer than expected.
    "I suspect he would like to stay (as leader of the country) for some time," Baker said. "He is hoping to create a situation where the Thai people want him to stay in power."