Prayut was speaking at the “Better Thailand: Open Dialogue” seminar yetserday (May 19), initiated by the government at Siam Paragon, reports the Bangkok Post.
He recounted the day when he decided to seize power almost eight years ago, saying the country was deeply divided, with society polarised over political lines for over a decade.
He said the country was bogged down in conflict, leaving the people in distress while Thailand was becoming the “sick man of Asia”.
“Some people may have forgotten this. When the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) was formed, we were aware that [restoring order] would come at a price... [but] we were criticised for being undemocratic,” Prayut said.
“At the time, the NCPO tried to ensure that people could still enjoy their freedom of expression in line with the law, with all sides given as much leniency as possible.
“The NCPO had a great deal of special power, but I only used it when it was necessary to solve problems. When it came to the justice system, independent agencies were still able to carry out their work without any interference.
“The primary aim [of the coup] was to maintain order and steer the country forward and restore international confidence in Thailand,” Prayut said.
He also emphasised the need for the 20-year national strategy - which covers security, competitiveness enhancements, human resource development, creation of opportunities and social equality, environmentally-friendly growth and public-sector readjustments - in order to turn Thailand into a developed country by 2037.
In his speech, he noted the pandemic has dealt a major blow to the economy which remains heavily dependent on tourism.
“The COVID-19 crisis is a tough one. We are fighting against an invisible enemy. Huge amounts have been spent on helping people get back on their feet,” he said.
As a result of cooperation from all stakeholders, he said Thailand’s efforts during the pandemic have been praised by the international community.
Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul had said on May 5 that Thailand was ranked fifth in the world, and first in Asia, on the Global Health Security Index last year.
The ranking reflects the country’s strong commitment to its public health measures during the pandemic, the minister said.
Prayut called the pandemic a blessing in disguise, as it has spurred Thailand to develop its potential to be the region’s leading medical hub. The country is also in the process of developing its own COVID-19 vaccine, he said.
He pointed out the series of relief measures that his administration has rolled out to ease the impact of the rising cost of living, sparked by higher energy prices due to the Russia-Ukraine war.
“Even though Thailand has been hit by crisis after crisis - from COVID-19, [the fallout from] the Russian-Ukraine conflict and the political divide in the country, the government will press ahead with its efforts to move the country forward.
“When the coronavirus crisis eases, Thailand will need investment to spur economic growth,” the prime minister said.
“I want everyone to have trust [in the government]. In times of crisis, the government may not be working as fast as some might expect. But we are determined to tackle all problems. We need to join forces. This is not the time for conflict,” he said.