Dozens of new political parties register for Thai election
More than 30 new Thai political parties submitted names and logos on the opening day of party registration in Bangkok on Friday, an early step in the junta-ruled kingdom’s halting return to democracy.
Thailand has been under army rule since a 2014 coup toppled an elected government that was accused of corruption and installed a military government.
The generals have banned all political activity and repeatedly postponed a promised return to democracy.
Yet this week the junta chief vowed polls would be held no later than February 2019.
In an early sign of enthusiasm for the vote, dozens of new parties applied for registration at the Election Commission (EC) on Friday, under names like “Siam Democrat Party” and “Thai Unity Party”.
“So far there are 34 names of political parties submitted to the EC,” an official said on Friday morning.
Many were political novices with backgrounds in business, civil society or academia, plus several farmers from the north and south.
A YouTube celebrity was also among the crowd, while one group wore T-shirts with the faces of Thailand’s most bitter political rivals arranged in a heart under the words “United”.
The agency has 30 days to approve or reject the bids.
Thailand’s caustic political scene has been dominated for over a decade two main factions: the Democrat Party and various incarnations of Pheu Thai Party– a populist movement led by exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
With the backing of a rural support base, Thaksin’s parties have won every national election since 2001.
Yet their governments have been repeatedly knocked from power by coups and court rulings favoured by a Bangkok-based, military-allied elite.
Analysts say the ruling junta is determined to curb Pheu Thai’s influence in the next poll and has rewritten a charter that hampers larger parties and shrinks the clout of elected politicians.
The military government has yet to lift its ban on political organising or protests of any kind.
Critics argue that the 2019 vote will not restore the level of democracy Thailand enjoyed before the coup.
The junta’s new charter replaces a once-elected senate with a fully appointed upper house, including several spots reserved for military leaders.
There is also a charter loophole that would allow parliament to install an unelected premier – an arrangement analysts say junta chief Prayuth Chan-ocha is gunning for.