Wed, Dec 12, 2018 - Page 1 News List

Thai junta lifts prohibition on political campaigning

AFP, BANGKOK

A demonstrator demanding election participates in a protest at Thammasat University in Bangkok on May 22 to mark the fourth year of junta rule.

Photo: AFP

Thailand’s junta yesterday lifted a ban on political campaigning ahead of next year’s elections, more than four years after the restriction was imposed following the kingdom’s latest coup.

One of the military’s first acts after seizing power in May 2014 was to outlaw political activity of all kind, as it muzzled opposition in a nation notorious for its rowdy — and often deadly — street politics.

However, the ban was officially lifted yesterday, prompting the Election Commission of Thailand to confirm an expected poll date of Feb. 24.

“Political parties should be able to campaign to present their policies,” said an order signed by Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha and published by palace mouthpiece the Royal Gazette.

The junta “has decided to amend or abolish the laws” that could inhibit campaigns before elections, it said.

Thailand’s rulers began easing restrictions in September, allowing political parties to recruit new members and elect leaders — but campaigns and street rallies remained banned.

Yesterday’s order raises the prospect of a return to Thailand’s rambunctious politics and the potential for street rallies that have defined much of the turbulent past decade of Thai politics.

Scores have died in street protests between competing factions over the past decade, as politics sharply divide supporters of the powerful Shinawatra clan — popular in the poor, populous north and northeast — and the royalist, conservative Bangkok-centric elite backed by the military.

Analysts said this time the military and its backers are hell-bent on blocking the Shinawatra clan from returning to power.

A new charter embeds government policy for the next 20 years, dilutes the number of elected parliamentary seats available and introduces a hand-picked upper house and the possibility of an appointed prime minister.

Despite lifting the campaigning ban, the junta still retains tools to silence its critics, including arbitrary detention, legal experts said.

“It’s to be seen how far the authorities will let people rally at certain ‘restricted’ places like at the Government House or near the palace,” said Anon Chawalawan, of legal monitoring group iLaw.

Politicians across the divides welcomed the easing of the ban.

Former Thai prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, an archrival to the Shinawatras, said it “should have been done before.”

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