Thailand approves 'reconciliation social contract', but some skeptical

BANGKOK (Reuters) - A reform panel headed by Thai junta chief Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha on Monday approved a “reconciliation social contract”, part of a plan aimed at healing years of political division, but critics of the military were not impressed.

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha arrives to attend a weekly cabinet meeting at Government House in Bangkok, Thailand June 13, 2017. Picture taken June 13, 2017. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom

The military came to power in a May 2014 coup promising to promote national unity and heal political rifts in a country that has been bitterly divided since a 2006 coup against then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who gained the adoration of rural voters but made many enemies among the military-royalist elite.

Critics of the military say Thailand remains starkly divided despite attempts by the junta, known as the National Council for Peace and Order, to introduce political and social reform.

The document, lacking specifics, lists ten points, such as: “Differences of opinions should be accepted and political institutions strengthened so they lead to transparent, clean and fair elections.”

“Today the committee agreed with the social contract,” Prime Minister’s Office Minister Suwit Maesinsee, who heads a junta-backed reconciliation committee, told reporters.

“We listened to many groups including civilians, businesses and political groups ... today we will summarize this into a 15-point action plan and will let people know about it,” he said.

Thanawut Wichaidit, a spokesman for the red shirt movement that supports Thaksin and his political party, said the contract was “window dressing”.

“It doesn’t resolve the problem of national disunity,” Thanawut told Reuters.

“If the army gets involved in politics, as it has done, this causes greater discord. This contract is window dressing to show the world that the government is doing something.

“You don’t need a contract. You just need to introduce democracy.”

Although the military government has regularly said it is following a “road map” for restoring democracy, the date for a general election has been pushed back several times.

A general election is now tentatively set for 2018.

Reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Panarat Thepgumpnat and Pracha Harirakspitak; Editing by Nick Macfie