BANGKOK • More than 100 new political parties are expected to launch within weeks in Thailand after registration opens on Friday.
It will be the first time since the military coup in May 2014 that political activities will be officially allowed in the country.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday said the general election he had earlier promised to hold in November would take place "no later" than February next year, the latest delay to anger critics of the government.
The junta has promised and postponed elections several times since its 2014 coup overthrew a civilian government. The latest date had been set for November but last month the military-appointed legislature changed the election law, pointing to further delay.
"Now I will answer clearly, an election will take place no later than February 2019," Mr Prayut, who is under increasing pressure both at home and abroad to return to civilian governance, told reporters in Bangkok, the capital.
A junta order signed by the Thai leader last December allows new political parties to be registered, along with their members, starting tomorrow, with existing parties able to start membership confirmation from April 1.
Starting on Friday, given that tomorrow is a public holiday, party founders are expected to register the names and symbols of new political parties with the Election Commission (EC).
As many as 114 groups of people have already informed the EC of their intention to form new parties. However, they may face hurdles under the Political Parties Act that require parties to have a minimum number of registered members and party branches in different regions of the country.
The new parties could be divided into three main categories - those backing the return of junta chief Prayut as prime minister after the next election, those that expect to become a partner in a future coalition government, and those offering themselves as new alternatives in politics, The Nation reported.
The first group has gained much attention recently after announcing their pro-military stance and a plan to support Mr Prayut's return as government head.
These include the Reform People Party initiated by former senator Paiboon Nititawan, the Great Mass of People Party initiated by veteran politician Suthep Thaugsuban, and the Public State Party reportedly planned by a pro-military group.
Another planned pro-military new party is expected to be called "For Thai Nation". It was initiated by Ms Ampapan Thanetdejsunthorn, the wife of the late former army commander-in-chief General Sunthorn Kongsompong.
Deputy Premier and Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan on Monday declined to comment on reports that Mr Suthep was setting up a new party in support of Mr Prayut's return as prime minister.
"I don't know. You need to ask Suthep," Mr Prawit said.
Hundreds of people have flocked to Bangkok in recent weeks to urge the military government not to delay the vote, some of the biggest anti-junta demonstrations seen since 2014.
The latest election delay has shattered people's confidence in Mr Prayut's timeframe, according to Mr Phongthep Thepkanjana, a former deputy prime minister and a senior member of the opposition Puea Thai Party.
"The delay is a symptom of those in power who know that once an election takes place they will no longer have power. That is why they want to delay election," said Mr Phongthep.
THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, REUTERS