Prayut promises Thai elections in November 2018

PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Some sceptical about new date, saying it is a ploy to ease pressure

Thailand will hold elections in November next year, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said in his most specific comment on the subject, more than three years after the former army chief staged a coup in May 2014.

But the latest date was viewed with caution, given how often Mr Prayut had indicated a date only to push it back.

"Around June, we will announce the date for the next election," he told reporters after a Cabinet meeting at Government House in Bangkok yesterday. "In November, we will have an election."

Mr Prayut gave the new date following much criticism over a possible further delay in elections.

A joint US-Thai statement issued during his recent trip to the United States mentioned a "free and fair election in 2018".

Deputy Premier Prawit Wongsuwan, however, said Mr Prayut only promised to announce the election date in 2018, meaning polls might be held only in 2019.

"He is saying this to release the pressure on him now," political activist Weng Tojirakarn of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) told The Straits Times.

CLEAR PLANS

Around June, we will announce the date for the next election. In November, we will have an election.

PRIME MINISTER PRAYUT CHAN-O-CHA. He gave the new date following much criticism over a possible further delay in elections.

Many UDD activists, also called "red shirts", support the Puea Thai party, which was ousted from government in the coup. Puea Thai and its previous iterations have won every single election for over a decade.

But a role in politics is now ruled out for former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra. She fled overseas in August, just before a court ruled that she had been negligent in her government's handling of a multibillion-dollar rice subsidy scheme and sentenced her to five years in jail, in absentia.

Her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, was also ousted in a coup when he was prime minister in 2006. He now lives abroad to evade a graft-related jail sentence. He remains influential in Puea Thai, and is active on social media.

On Monday, after newly appointed Attorney-General Khemchai Chutiwong said his office would prosecute Thaksin for lese majeste, the former leader declared on Twitter that he would take legal action against anyone who accused him of the crime.

Political activity remains banned in the kingdom. Thais are now preparing for the cremation of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, whose body has been lying in state since his death on Oct 13 last year.

But the enactment of a new Constitution on April 6 - even with clauses that would extend military influence and limit the power of large parties like Puea Thai - has raised expectations that the ruling junta will soon make way for an elected government.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 11, 2017, with the headline 'Prayut promises Thai elections in November 2018'. Print Edition | Subscribe