Thailand's junta leader says elections in November 2017

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BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand's junta leader said Tuesday he will hold elections in November 2017 under a newly approved constitution that ensures the military's control over the next government.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the army chief who took power in a coup in 2014, has said before that he would hold elections in 2017 but had not specified a month. He only said he had a roadmap to democracy under which power would be returned to a civilian government.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, he dismissed a journalist's suggestion that the polls could be postponed to 2018.

"Let's count today as Day 1 on the roadmap schedule. If you follow the roadmap it would put us at November 2017 when the whole process is complete. So why would the elections be held in 2018?" he said.

Prayuth's comments came two days after the new constitution was approved in a referendum by a clear majority. Critics say the charter was tailor-made for the military to retain control because it provides for an appointed Senate which can choose a non-elected prime minister. Also, many key governing bodies, courts and agencies will remain under the military's influence.

The junta also banned most discussion about the constitution before the vote, ensuring that those opposed to it had no way of describing their views to others. The turnout in the referendum was about 55 percent, which meant that only about one-third of the electorate endorsed it, given that it won with a 67 percent majority.

A reporter asked Prayuth to comment on those points, which were raised by the international community.

"It's their own business. They can say what they want but we are not going to bother with a response because the referendum shows that we used international standards and we have spoken," Prayuth said. He then scolded the reporter who had asked the question, asking if she worked for a foreign organization. Then he muttered, "She doesn't love her own country."

He also did not rule out becoming prime minister again if the Senate chooses him. "Why are you asking me? It's not up to me to decide this. Go and ask the political parties," he said.

Asked when he would lift a ban on political parties, he said: "When the country is peaceful. When new laws have been drafted in accordance with the new constitution we will see."

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