THAILAND’S prime minister has said the military government is planning to lift its ban on political party gatherings ahead of next year’s planned general elections, but did not elaborate on the date of the polls or when the ruling would be rescinded.
According to the The Straits Times (via AFP), Prayuth Chan-ocha reiterated Wednesday that the election process would begin next year, but not before the country holds a cremation for the late King Bhumibol Aduyadej. The cremation is expected to place in October this year.
“In 2018 we will go ahead with holding elections and political parties will be able to hold meetings,” he said.
The comment was the first time the former army chief-turned-prime minister confirmed civilian parties would be allowed to hold gatherings in gearing up for the highly-anticipated elections.
In 2014, the military seized power from former democratically-elected Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s administration, bringing with it a slew of reform agendas and amendments to the kingdom’s Constitution. It said then that the coup was to bring an end to years of political turmoil.
Subsequent to the coup, the junta outlawed political parties from holding meetings as part of its crackdown on political dissent. The prime minister was also accorded powers to pass any law that was deemed in the interest of national security.
Bhumibol’s death last October after more than seven decades on the throne sent Thailand into mourning.
While the general election had initially been promised by the junta for 2015, Thailand is yet to have an election or even a fixed date for one. The newly approved Constitution stipulates that it could take another 19 months before the vote happens.
Earlier this month, Thailand’s new King Maha Vajiralongkorn signed the military-backed Constitution into law, an essential step towards an election the junta has promised would restore democracy after the twelfth successful coup in 80 years.
The new Constitution is the Southeast Asian country’s 20th since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932 and critics say it will still give the generals a powerful say over Thai politics for years, if not decades.
The king’s power was also reinforced by recent changes made at the palace’s request to the draft Constitution approved in a referendum last August, analysts said.
Thailand is divided between Yingluck and her brother Thaksin Shinawatra’s Pheu Thai Party supporters in the poorer north and northeast and the traditional royalist-military establishment in the capital and the south.
The Pheu Thai Party said some restrictions should be lifted.
“We understand that there may be caveats and boundaries due to the sensitive timing, but we want the government to understand us too,” said party lawmaker Amnuay Klangpha, as quoted by Reuters.
The Democrat Party, the other main opposition political party, has also said it wants the government to lift the restrictions sooner.
Additional reporting by Reuters