BANGKOK – Thai Junta Leader Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha said on Tuesday he will anounce the general election date in June next year and the people will go to the polls in November 2018.
Thailand will hold a general election in November 2018, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said on Tuesday, the most precise date he has given yet for the vote since taking power in a 2014 military coup.
Gen Prayuth, head of the ruling junta, told reporters the exact date would be announced in June 2018. The government has announced election dates at least two times in the past, only to push them back later, citing concerns such as changes to the constitution and security issues.
“Around June we will announce the date for the next election,” Gen Prayuth told reporters at Bangkok’s Government House.
“In November we will have an election … It is clearer now.”
Former army chief Gen Prayuth, who led the May 2014 coup widely criticised by Western nations, said it was necessary to end a decade of political turbulence and root out corruption.
In April, King Maha Vajiralongkorn signed into law a military-backed constitution that kickstarts the process for an election the junta has promised will restore democracy.
The new charter provides for a proportional voting system likely to reduce the influence of major political parties, which critics say aims to strengthen the role of the military.
Analysts expect political activities to resume slowly after the funeral of King Bhumibol Adulyadej this month ends a year of mourning for a monarch many Thais saw as a father figure.
“Prayuth wants to delay the election but he knows that after the king’s cremation, there will be pressure for an election,” said Kan Yuenyong of the Siam Intelligence Unit think tank.
“This announcement for the election in November next year will act to reduce that pressure, because if not, there could be chances for protests,” he told Reuters.
Thailand’s main stock index rose 0.7% after the news, having opened Tuesday down 0.3%.
‘Good for Country’
The government has faced increasing pressure to lift a ban on political activities levied soon after the coup.
Gen Prayuth will consider lifting the ban “at an appropriate time”, he told reporters, without giving details. He said a meeting of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) acknowledged that the 2017 constitution’s organic law on political parties is now in effect.
Gen Prayut, who is also the NCPO chief, said the council would later consider relaxing the restriction on political activities, but all people are requested to be peaceful during October.
Now that a clear announcement had been made of the timing of the elections, he said, politicians and political parties should maintain peace and order. This would have a direct impact on the relaxation of the political ban.
The junta had initially promised an election in 2015, after seizing power from the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, sister of Thaksin Shinawatra.
Thaksin’s governments, or those backed by him, have won every election since 2001, partly because of their overwhelming popularity with politically-powerful rural voters.
But the Shinawatras made enemies, including those among the military-backed establishment who accused Thaksin and his allies of corruption.
Thaksin was ousted in 2006 and lives abroad in self-imposed exile. Yingluck followed suit in August, when she fled Thailand ahead of the verdict in a criminal case.
Some politicians expressed skepticism over the election date.
“It isn’t really believable, because they have changed it many times,” said Chaturon Chaisang, a member of Thaksin’s Puea Thai Party.
Ong-art Klampaiboon, deputy leader of the Democrat Party, Puea Thai’s biggest competitor, welcomed the news.
“The election date creates clarity,” Mr Ong-art said. “This should be good for the country and the people.”
Sources: Bangkok Post, The Nation