Thai junta promises February election

After several delays, Thailand says it will hold a general election early next year, as it was confirmed the military’s ban on political activity is to be lifted.

The election has been scheduled for February 24 as a ban political activity has slowly eased over the past few months.

“Political parties should be able to campaign to present their policies,” the order on the official Royal Gazette website said. “The people and political parties will be able to take part in political activities during this period leading up to the election in accordance with the constitution.”

It added that the military-controlled government “has decided to amend or abolish the laws” which inhibit political campaigning.

The move will also allow political parties to begin using funds for campaigning ahead of the February vote.

The race is expected to see former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s “red shirt” movement against the military and royalist establishment, which has sponsored its own proxy parties.

The generals drew up a new constitution and changes to the electoral system which were approved in a tightly controlled referendum in 2017.

The constitution effectively ensures that even after the election, the military will remain politically powerful, able to appoint senators, who in turn help choose the next prime minister.

This week’s order also involves revoking parts of other measures the generals used to gag critics, such as the return of those who had been summoned to attend military camps for “attitude adjustment” sessions where critics of the junta were held for weeks.

Numerous critics have been detained and charged since the ban on gatherings of more than five people in an attempt to prevent further large protests.

The junta banned political activity after it seized power in the May 2014 coup, but allowed political parties to start recruiting members and choose leaders in September.

Campaigning and rallies are still currently banned.

The generals claimed the restrictions were necessary to restore order following months of sometimes violent protests against the populist Pheu Thai party government of the former prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s sister.

Yingluck fled Thailand in 2017 to avoid conviction in a criminal negligence case she said was politically motivated. The junta has since sought her extradition from the UK.
The family’s camp, which has won every election since 2001, has twice had its administrations overthrown by coups.

Thaksin was deposed as prime minister in 2006.

Since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932, Thailand has endured 12 successful coups by the military and seven attempted putsches.

Bangkok in 2010. The generals are keen to avoid the polarisation associated with Thai democracy. Picture credit: Asean Economist