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Thai junta may hold polls in 2007

The junta has long promised to hold a referendum on a new constitution.

world Updated: Mar 20, 2007 13:25 IST

Thailand's junta chief insisted on Tuesday that it would hold elections to restore democracy by the end of the year, in a wide-ranging televised defence of the military coup six months ago.

"We will have free and fair elections on schedule," General Sondhi Boonyaratklin said in a more than two-hour news conference at the army headquarters, carried live on all Thailand's television stations.

The junta has long promised to hold a referendum on a new constitution followed by general elections before the end of the year.

Efforts to write a new charter have been held up by contentious debate over issues ranging from whether the prime minister can be appointed to whether Buddhism should be declared the official religion.

Political parties complain that a military ban on their activities prevents them from contributing to the constitution or preparing for eventual elections.

The junta has also received criticism from supporters of the coup that the new government has not moved aggressively enough to prosecute ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra over alleged corruption.

"I am fully aware that people are waiting for the prosecution of wrongdoers, but we have to be fair to all parties," Sonthi said.

"It is a very difficult and slow process to solve problems resulting from the pseudo-democracy and capitalist dictatorship" of Thaksin's government, he told the gathering.

During the briefing, eight agencies — including the constitution drafters, the Election Commission and the attorney general's office — gave 15-minute briefings on their work since the coup.

"The constitution will be completed on time and will be approved in a referendum. National elections will eventually be held by the end of this year," said Decho Savananont, deputy chief of the Constitutional Drafting Council.

The military received a warm welcome from residents of Bangkok when they took power on September 19.

Many hoped the putsch would mark an end to a year of turmoil surrounding Thaksin and claims of corruption by his government.

Instead, the military-installed government has faced a series of crises, including several damaging economic blunders and a worsening insurgency by Islamic militants in southern Thailand.

Polls show public support for the regime has steadily dropped, amid growing worries about the nation's political and economic future.