Thailand Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha (architect of the May 22 army coup) met with King Bhumibol Adulyadej on Thursday, accompanied by his military-dominated cabinet. The visit comes after over nine months of political turmoil, sparked by a power struggle between supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who continues to exert enormous control over the Thai government, and largely urban, middle class protesters clamoring for reform. (Check out our Blouin Beat primer to learn more: The Thai protests, explained).
Tensions have calmed somewhat since Prayuth took power. The prime minister has promised to overhaul the current system in anticipation of an election to be held in late 2015. Thursday’s meet with King Bhumibol was intended to mark the debut of Prayuth’s year of reforms. Also Thursday, the Thai leader laid out his plan for a national reform council responsible for drafting a new constitution, and which will include representatives from “all walks of life.” Yet, while recent opinion polls reflect broad confidence in the new government, observers remain dubious about Prayuth’s vague promises of reform. Namely because the Thai leader is refusing to enumerate and adopt a concrete time line. Not to mention the fact that the premier’s first measures in office have focused more on cementing military rule – and curbing Thaksin’s influence – than on a tangible overhaul of the political establishment. (In the wake of the May coup, Prayuth introduced a temporary constitution giving the Thai junta absolute powers; the prime minister also established a parliament dominated by military allies.)
Of greater concern, however, may be Prayuth’s failings in relation to Thailand’s economy, weakened by months of street protests. According to Reuters:
The military government is striving to revive an economy that contracted in the first half of the year. There are signs of recovery but data on Friday suggested a broad-based recovery is some way off.
Indeed, economists predict a meager 1.2% growth for this year. Yet Prayuth’s public optimism continues. The prime minister announced, “Corruption, the economy, taxes, drugs, the illegal encroachment of forests … Once I have solved our problems I will go.” Given the lackluster progress thus far, look for Prayuth to cling to power well beyond 2015.