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Thailand Junta Faces Bigger Protests Against Election Delays

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BANGKOK – A backlash is growing in Thailand against the military junta’s apparent move to further delay elections that are supposed to restore power back to civilian rule.

Democracy and Pro-Election groups held demonstrations in Thailand’s capital Bangkok on Saturday, with hundreds of people demanding elections and an end military rule under Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha.

Hundreds of people gathered calling for elections on March 10th while some were holding up placards mocking Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha as Pinocchio.

Junta leader Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has flip-flopped on election dates more than 5 times since 2015 and has now postponed his promised election date of Feb 24th citing scheduling difficulties with planning for the coronation of King Maha Vajiralongkorn in early May – although it has been said he still wants the ballot held before those ceremonies.

Thailand’s Election Commission has given March 10 or March 24 as possible polling dates, but no date has been set and a royal decree must be issued before an actual election can take place.

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam on Thursday said March 24 was the “most suitable date” because it would not overlap with events related to King Vajiralongkorn’s coronation in early May.

Democracy and pro-election activists accused the government of buying time for pro-military parties to prepare for the first elections since the military seized power in a bloodless 2014 coup.

“We’re calling for elections as soon as possible,” activist Sirawith Seritiwa told the crowd.

The Democracy and Pro-Election activists, warned of bigger protests in Bangkok if the junta does not begin the necessary preparations.

This has prompted a rebuke from the Junta leaders and Thailand’s Army Chief.

“They cannot set conditions to negotiate with the government,” Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said of the activists, according to local media. Army chief Gen. Apirat Kongsompong warned protesters on Tuesday not to “cross the line,” and threatened to send in security forces to maintain order.

Demonstrations against the military government last May drew a large security presence that forcibly removed protesters and detained 15 protesters. But unlike then, the junta now allows freedom of political assembly.

Thailand’s longstanding political divide is between strongly royalist and pro-military conservatives and “red shirt” populists linked to exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra who have won every election since 2001.

Despite measures by the junta to entrench the ruling generals’ hold on power after any election, opinion polls have shown that Thaksin’s supporters remain politically strong.

Source: Reuters, Nikkei