Thailand’s military government says February election date firm
After more than four years of military rule, Thailand plans to hold a widely anticipated election in February 2019 in what could be an initial step toward returning the Southeast Asian nation to democracy.
The military, which took control of Thailand’s government in a 2014 coup, had promised to hold an election between February and May 2019. Previous attempts to schedule a vote, however, were delayed on the grounds of constitutional and legislative steps required before an election, Reuters reported.
Now, Thailand’s deputy prime minister said his government is committed to a February 24 vote.
“If you ask whether the election will be delayed, well, it is only others who are saying this, not the government,” Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said. “We are still looking at February 24.”
Thai voters will elect 350 members to parliament and another 150 representatives to the 500-seat Lower House. Junta leader and Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a former Army chief, could be reappointed to his post because Thailand’s constitution allows for someone who is not in parliament to be selected, according to The Straits Times newspaper. Prayut, pictured, has voiced an interest in staying in his job.
As Army chief, Prayut led the coup that ousted the civilian government and ended a prolonged period of unrest. If a political party nominates him as its front-runner, he could return as prime minister. Another possibility is to be chosen as an “outside prime minister,” which would require a two-thirds vote from the House of Representatives and the Upper House Senate.
Prayut made his political desires clear in mid-October 2018 when he opened election campaign sites on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. “I would like to open my Facebook personal account as another channel to communicate my policies and work, as well as those of the government,” the prime minister said in a prepared statement. He also encouraged the Thai people to state their problems and exchange views on his social media accounts.
The military junta, called the National Council for Peace and Order, has promised to relax curbs on political activities before the February election. Although political parties can recruit new members and hold internal meetings, bans remain on public campaigning and large gatherings, Reuters reported.
While the government is not expected to lift the campaign ban until mid-December 2018, Thai political parties urged the junta to end campaign restrictions as soon as possible.
Pannika Wanich, spokeswoman for the Future Forward party, asked for an immediate lifting of the ban. “Moving toward free and fair elections requires that political parties have the opportunity to declare their stances and ideologies as widely as possible, so people have full information to make informed election decisions,” she said, according to the Khao Sod newspaper in Thailand. “The longer the ban persists, the less free and fair elections will become.”