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[BANGKOK] Thailand will hold a general election in 2017, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said on Tuesday, seeking to allay concerns his military government might delay plans for a return to democracy, days after the country endorsed a military-backed constitution.
Sunday's referendum was seen as the biggest test yet of public opinion on the rule of Mr Prayuth, who seized power in a May 2014 coup he said was aimed at ending years of political turmoil in the South-east Asian nation.
Under the junta's "roadmap" to restore democratic rule, Mr Prayuth has previously said a general election will be held in 2017. A democratically elected government will take power at the earliest in 2017, a senior official said on Monday.
Mr Prayuth's comments followed urging by the US State Department on Monday for Thai authorities to take steps to restore an elected, civilian government as soon as possible.
"Please have confidence in the roadmap," Mr Prayuth told reporters at Government House ahead of a cabinet meeting, in his first public comments since the referendum.
"An election will take place in 2017, I have never said anything different to this."
Analysts say a desire for greater political stability drove Sunday's "yes" vote, with 61 per cent in favour, preliminary results show, from among a voter turnout of about 55 per cent.
Thailand has been rocked by more than a decade of political turmoil that has stunted growth, fomented two military takeovers and deadly civil unrest.
Critics, including major political parties, had criticised the constitution before the vote, saying it would constrict democracy, and give unelected lawmakers, including those appointed by the military, veto power over elected governments.
There has been no sign of unrest since the referendum. Members of the anti-junta opposition say they are biding their time until the 2017 election, when they can try to scrap the military charter, if a party they back takes power.