Thai election could be delayed to 2017 if charter rejected: Minister

BANGKOK (REUTERS)- A general election in Thailand could be delayed until April 2017 if a newly drafted constitution is rejected by a national reform assembly due to convene next month, a deputy prime minister said on Monday.

The military government established after a coup last year initially said it wanted an election to restore democracy in late 2015 but later said it had to be delayed until 2016 to give more time for reforms which the military says should bring stability after a decade of factional rivalry.

The United States and other allies are keen to see democracy restored as quickly as possible but the deputy prime minister, Wissanu Krea-ngam, raised the possibility of a further delay if proposed reforms meet opposition.

"If the reform assembly votes down the newly drafted charter, new constitutional drafters are to be set up followed by a referendum," Wissanu told reporters. "It would delay the election by about 19 months (from next month)".

If the new draft won approval from the council, a referendum on whether to promulgate it would be held on Jan 10, followed by the election in September 2016, Wissanu said.

The military government has most recently said an election would be held in September 2016.

It agreed recently to put the draft constitution, which would be Thailand's 20th since becoming a democracy in 1932, to a referendum to seek a public mandate and ward-off criticism that it was forced upon the country.

The constitution is expected to be another divisive issue in Thailand's long turbulent politics.

Some critics saying the latest draft is designed to weaken elected governments and neuter the power of parties controlled by the dominant Shinawatra family, which have won every election since 2001 and have twice been overthrown by the military.