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All good so far, but few insights yet on nature of reforms

It was perhaps inevitable that junta chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha would become a favoured leader among Thais after seeing the work he has overseen in the first month since seizing power.

Prayuth seems to know what people want and need. His orders to crack down on mafia and gambling, seize war weapons, and promptly pay around Bt90 billion in funds owed to farmers from the rice-pledging scheme were warmly welcomed by the public, according to opinion polls.

Two recent polls found respondents chose the junta chief as their preferred prime minister in an interim government to be set up in September.

Last Sunday, the Master Poll of the Thai Researchers in Community Happiness Association found Prayuth was top choice, backed by 32 per cent of respondents in 15 provinces, to be the next PM.

A week earlier, most people surveyed by Nida wanted the general to be the next prime minister, while most were satisfied with the junta's performance over its first month in power. Of 1,259 respondents in all five regions of the country, 41 per cent said the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) should nominate Prayuth to head the interim government.

Coinciding with the opinion polls supporting Prayuth as prospective PM, there was a report that the junta leader is likely to double as premier in an interim government - in order to avoid mistakes made by the 2006 coup leaders, a source in the NCPO told The Nation.

The NCPO will also retain its present executive power even after the interim government is installed, a source close to Prayuth confirmed.

Although the opinion polls cannot represent feedback from all 68 million people in the country, they at least carry some significance.

One interesting aspect picked up by the polls was the negative sentiment - perhaps due to the prolonged protest since late last year - which saw most people reject politicians. According to the Nida poll, no politicians were in the top five nominees to be PM.

Before the coup, Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva proposed a road map for political reform to end the political impasse. He said he needed to do something to restore people's faith in politicians.

However, the junta is now leading the process of national reform, with the political area on its agenda.

It will be interesting to see how the junta manages the re-jig of the political structure to manage politicians, given voters may be fed up and see politicians as corrupt and putting their own interests ahead of the country.

There is no clear sign yet on how the military plans to reshape Thai politics or control politicians via the electoral system, but it is expected that it may have a strategy to block a political entity run by the Shinawatras or others who try to use 'negative' populist ploys to lure votes.

While the dust is yet to settle, there has been a report that the previous polling system may be scrapped.

In a meeting between representatives of the Election Commission and the NCPO's national reform panel, the junta asked the EC about a report saying that members of Parliament could be selected rather than elected.

It's not clear where such an idea came from, or whether it is really being considered - but appointing MPs is unlikely to win approval from the public or many voters. No matter how much people are upset about the behaviour of politicians, in any democratic country an election for members of the lower house of Parliament is imperative.

The junta should take this chance to create as good an electoral system as they can, to try to stop bad politicians who use loopholes for their own benefit.


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