CHIANG RAI – Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha speaking at a mobile cabinet meeting in Chiang Rai on Tuesday announced that the ban on political activity will be lifted by December in anticipation of a general election next year.
The military government has imposed a strict ban on all political activity since a 2014 military coup, citing the need for peace and order after months of street protests against a civilian government of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
Opponents of military rule say the ban, backed up by legal action against those who violate it, has stifled dissent.
Last month, the government relaxed some restrictions, allowing political parties to resume organizing ahead of a general election due by May next year but still maintain a ban on public gathering of more than five people and political campaigning.
“On the lifting of the ban on political activities, we will consider it sometime at the end of November or early December depending on suitability,” Gen Prayut told reporters after a meeting of his cabinet was held in the northern town of Chiang Rai.
The ban forbids all political activity including the holding of gatherings and campaigning.
The junta has said the ban on political activity has been necessary to preserve stability after more than a decade of at times violent rivalry between supporters of ousted premiers Thaksin Shinawatra, and his sister, Yingluck, and the Bangkok-based royalist establishment.
Like the election itself, the lifting of the ban on political activities has been repeatedly delayed. On Oct 9 last year, Constitution Drafting Committee Chairman Meechai Ruchupan said the ban could be lifted ‘in a few days’. On March 29 this year, Deputy Prime Minister Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon said restrictions would end in June.
Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said on Tuesday if the election is held on Feb 24 as planned, any politician who wants to move to another party or anyone interested in becoming an MP must become a member of that party by Nov 26 or they won’t be able to run in the general election.
“The law requires MP candidates to be members of their parties at least 90 days ahead of an election. To be a member under the new laws means they have paid membership fees. Saying they already applied is not enough,” he said.
Political parties are gearing up for next year’s general election, being held under a military-drafted constitution that critics say will prolong military influence over civilian politics.
Last month, Gen Prayut said he was interested in having a political role after the general election, fuelling speculation he aims to stay on as prime minister.
Four of his cabinet ministers have launched a political party that could back Gen Prayut.
On Sunday, Thaksin’s old Pheu Thai Party chose new leaders to take it into the election.
An election date has not been set but senior government official have said that it would likely be on Feb 24.
By Pracha Harirakspitak and Panu Wongcha-um – Reuters