Oct 15, 7:28 AM EDT

Thai leader says polls could be delayed until 2016

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Thai leader says polls could be delayed until 2016

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BANGKOK (AP) -- Thailand's interim prime minister, who seized power in a military coup, suggested Wednesday that the country's next elections may not occur until 2016, although he earlier set a target date of October 2015.

Prayuth Chan-ocha, who was army commander when he toppled an elected government in May, said he could not control the implementation of a roadmap he established earlier, which called for a new constitution in July 2015 and a general election about three months later.

"Don't push me too much on this," Prayuth told reporters ahead of his departure for Italy, where he is to attend a summit of Asian and European leaders. "I've already said it, so that's the end. Everything depends on the roadmap, so the issue is whether we can follow the roadmap or not." He said he alone could not finish the process.

Prayuth has consistently maintained that the October 2015 date was a provisional one, contingent on a series of post-coup measures proceeding smoothly. He has said that criticism of the process could slow the schedule. Criticism is effectively criminalized under regulations imposed by the army after its takeover, and martial law remains in effect.

Reporters asked him about the election date after Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, a legal expert, said the polls might not take place until 2016 because of the need to pass legislation for holding elections.

Thailand has suffered from political instability since 2006, when an earlier military coup ousted then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on allegations of corruption, abuse of power and disrespect for the king. Supporters and opponents of Thaksin have struggled for power at the ballot box and in the streets, sometimes violently.

The army said it needed to seize power from an elected pro-Thaksin government in May to restore order after a half year of anti-government protests and political turmoil that left at least 28 people dead and the government paralyzed. But since taking power, the army appears to be carrying on the fight of anti-Thakin protesters by mapping out a similar agenda to rewrite the constitution and institute extensive political reforms aimed at blocking his return to power. It has quashed most dissent, threatening or arresting critics of the coup.

Prayuth was named interim prime minister in August by an acting legislature dominated by military appointees. He retired as army chief at the end of August.

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