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Leader pushes 'business as usual' amid slow politics

Thailand hopes to begin bullet-train services using Japanese technology and could hold a general election by year-end, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said. Excerpts from an interview with The Nikkei on Feb. 9 and one with a group of Japanese media on Feb. 6, both conducted in Thai, follow:

The junta will exclude "bad politicians," Prayuth Chan-ocha says.

Q: A top U.S. diplomat recently said Yingluck Shinawatra's impeachment appears "politically driven."

A: I felt upset by [Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel] Russel's words [in a Jan. 26. speech]. He may not understand how we are trying to bring political stability to our country. If the U.S. has doubts or concerns, it should ask us directly. We can answer any questions.

Q: How long do you intend to maintain martial law?

A: Which country do you like better, the current Thailand or the Thailand six months ago? Thais want stability.

      On May 22, the government was dysfunctional. It couldn't even approve a budget. The country needed to move on. The military intervened because there was no other way. Today, Thais are divided into three groups: anti-government, pro-government and neutral. My task is to do justice to each group so they can unite. 

     It may be hard for outsiders to understand, but I want to ask: If you were me, what would you do? If you recklessly hold an election and the previous government returns or anti-government forces take power, Thais will kill each other.  

     Thailand's return to democracy will come in three phases. The first four months were governed by the National Council for Peace and Order. In the current second phase, an interim government has run the nation under a provisional constitution. We created this government because there were problems and Thailand needed time for reform. Martial law is necessary for this period.

     In the second phase, about 100 reforms in 11 areas must be carried out. If this can be done in a year, the process will enter the election stage. But stability must be maintained during this period. Otherwise, reforms cannot progress.

     In the third phase, a constitution is needed to prepare for the election. We have to prepare it for approval by September. If the draft is made by April for public comment, work will be finished by September.

Q: When will you hold an election?

A: If we can ready the constitution by September, then we will enact related laws. That will take about two months. The election will become possible in September or October, or by the end of the year at the latest. If, however, the situation is not stable, the schedule may change. 

Q: What are the priorities in drafting the constitution?

A: There are differences between Japan and Thailand over [a desirable] constitution. Our top priority is to ensure bad politicians are excluded from policymaking. In Japan, if a problem (concerning policy) occurs, the minister in charge resigns. I hope Thailand becomes like that.

     We are trying to stop corrupt politicians entering politics. Many Thai politicians have been failing to meet people's expectations, focusing only on their own interests.

Q: Can you elaborate on Thailand's railway-network plans?

P: We have confidence in Japan's shinkansen technology, but need to think about the budget. So we will likely start with a dual-track train project to expand standard-gauge railway lines. But the ultimate goal is a bullet-train line.

     Thailand has three train projects. One will improve the existing railways with a track gauge of 1 meter. A second will build a dual-track line between the country's southern and northern parts. A third will build 1.35-meter tracks linking the east-west economic corridor and the north-south corridor. To draw up plans for railway lines, we need to take neighboring countries' systems into account for smooth connectivity.

     We have signed an agreement with China, but Japan doesn't have to worry. We will have talks with Japan over the planned line for the east-west corridor. 

Q: Why do you want Japan involved in the Dawei special economic zone in Myanmar?

A: I want you to see development in Dawei in the broader context of ASEAN. Enhancing connectivity among ASEAN nations will increase trade and investment. Thai-Japanese cooperation will help encourage other nations to participate.

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