Thai opposition urges government to lift politics ban as poll looms

Next election now expected near the end of February 2019, after being stalled for several years

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 September, 2018, 6:53pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 September, 2018, 9:47pm

The toppled Thai opposition on Thursday called on the government to lift the ban on political activities as the countdown begins for the kingdom’s first election since a 2014 coup.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn endorsed two bills on Wednesday that cleared the bureaucratic hurdles to a poll, which has been promised and delayed for years by the government. An election is required to take place by May.

The opposition wants to hold political gatherings, which have been banned since a coup four years ago toppled the Peua Thai government led by Yingluck Shinawatra.

“We demand for the junta to lift the political activities ban as soon as possible,” said Pichai Naripthaphan, a former minister in Yingluck’s cabinet. “As the country heads to an election, we need to create a good atmosphere so that people can express their opinions.”

Senior government figures have suggested February 24 as a date for the poll.

Pichai said that date is now increasingly likely. He warned the National Council for Peace Order (NCPO) – the political name of the government – against postponing it again.

“If the NCPO postpones it again, there will be local and international pressure,” he said.

Peua Thai is affiliated with the Shinawatra clan, a powerful and wealthy political family whose parties and proxies have won every Thai general election since 2001.

Yingluck – and her older brother Thaksin – are living in exile to avoid prison after they were both convicted of corruption.

With the ban on politics still in place, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has spent months positioning himself for a potential run in the next election.

Despite claiming he has no interest in politics – only in maintaining peace and order – the gruff former general is expected to front an army-aligned party in the vote.

For months he has criss-crossed the country promising economic development, wooing local politicians with promises of investment and showing his softer side to the electorate with endless photo opportunities.

On Thursday he hosted Japanese girl pop sensation AKB48 at Government House, waving a luminous pink stick to one of their smash hits and posing for photos.

Flanked by a royalist, conservative Bangkok-centric establishment, Thailand’s military loathes the Shinawatras, accusing them of winning the hearts of the electorate with a toxic form of populist politics.

But junta critics say the army upended Thailand’s fragile democracy to ensure its role is embedded in the kingdom’s political future.