BANGKOK (AFP) - Thailand's former ruling party on Friday (Jan 26) slammed the junta's latest postponement of elections until 2019, accusing the generals of buying time to consolidate support ahead of a return to voting.
The junta has delayed several poll dates since toppling the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra in 2014 and instituting a ban on all political activity.
Late Thursday, the military government's rubber-stamp Parliament voted to change an election law and pave the way for polls to be pushed back from the junta's previously-stated timetable of November 2018.
Elections will likely be delayed for three months and fall some time in 2019, deputy prime minister General Prawit Wongsuwan told reporters on Friday, without giving a clear date.
The move was swiftly panned by the toppled Pheu Thai party, whose various incarnations have won every national election since 2001 but have been taken out by elite-backed coups and court rulings.
Chaturon Chaisang, a former minister and senior Pheu Thai leader, said the junta is trying to position itself for victory ahead of the poll.
"They want time to prepare to make sure they can come back to power after an election," he told AFP.
The military regime, which has yet to lift its ban on political activities, is trying to "weaken all existing parties," Chaturon added, giving room for support to grow for an appointed prime minister or a military-backed party.
Thailand's generals have already enshrined their influence in government for years to come through a new charter that curbs the power of elected politicians and strengthens other arms of government.
The junta-drafted constitution calls for a fully-appointed Upper House, with six spots reserved for military leaders, and a proportional voting system likely to reduce the influence of major parties.
Analysts expect the generals to return to power in the form of a military-allied party, or rely on a charter loophole that could see an unelected premier installed through a Parliamentary vote.
The poll postponement comes as the junta takes flak over a corruption scandal centering on deputy premier Prawit, who has been dubbed "the Rolex General" for parading a collection of luxury watches.
Since December, a muckraking Thai-language Facebook page called "CSI LA" has unearthed photos of the junta No. 2 wearing 25 watches collectively worth US$1.2 million (S$1.6 million), including 11 Rolexes, eight Patek Philippes and three Richard Milles.
Prawit says the watches were borrowed from friends but is now being probed by an anti-graft agency for failing to declare the timepieces on his list of assets.
Critics say the junta heavyweight is likely to get off scot-free in a kingdom where impunity for the rich and powerful reigns.