An interim government will be formed in time to administer the state budget for the next fiscal year, but elections are at least 15 months away, coup leader Prayuth Chan-ocha said on Friday.
Gen Prayuth also outlined a broader plan to reform the country before returning it to a government elected under conditions that all people can accept.
Under the timetable he announced in a televised address, an election could be held in 15 months at the earliest.
In the first phase, expected to take two or three months, the focus would be on ensuring security and on reconciliation, he said.
In the second phase, expected to take about a year, legal experts will draft a temporary constitution. A national assembly will be set up and will choose a prime minister.
In the meantime, he asked for understanding from Thai people as well as the international community, saying time was needed to make the necessary changes.
"We believe people will choose our Kingdom before a flawed democratic system," he said.
Gen Prayuth said the budget for the next fiscal year was being worked out for approval by the legislative body and a new government would be responsible for administing it.
An interim government will be formed after the legislative body, which is also tasked with selecting an interim prime minister.
The address was the first clear indication that the army chief intended to wash his hands of overseeing the budget, and it also provided the clearest timetable yet for reforms.
The army chief said the armed forces had no desire to prolong their stay.
"The country comes first, democracy can follow. We need time. When the mission is finished we will go back to normal military duty," he said.
He also promised a quick end to martial law and planned to ease curfews in some areas hit by a decline in tourists.
"If the situation return to normal in some tourism areas, the curfew will be eased," he said. "If the overall situation returns to normal, laws will be restored as soon as possible."
Martial law was declared on May 20, followed by the coup on May 22. The National Council for Peace and Order chaired by Gen Prayuth announced on May 25 that certain offences would be tried in military courts.
Gen Prayuth also warned that attempts to instigate violence were continuing and said the NCPO needed to prevent protests as they could escalate into conflicts between other factions.
He promised to reconsider all projects stalled by the political impasse, including water management and infrastructure projects expected to cost hundreds of billions of baht.
Projects including the dual-track train line and high-speed trains would be thoroughly screened without political prejudice, he said, adding that not all blueprints would be revived.
The general also defended the coup makers' approach so far. He said that the time had come to put an end to the discord that had plagued the country since 2006.
"Nothing can succeed unless there is peace and security," he said. "I think all Thais are like me [and believe] there has been no happiness for nine years."
"I'm not doing this for myself. We understand what foreigners think but we need time to adjust before we can all live happily together."