Thai elections may be delayed until 2016: deputy PM

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha leaves Government House as he leads a new cabinet to an audience with King Bhumibol Adulyadej at Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok on Sept 4, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha leaves Government House as he leads a new cabinet to an audience with King Bhumibol Adulyadej at Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok on Sept 4, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK (AFP) - Thailand’s junta said Thursday elections in the military-ruled kingdom would likely be delayed until 2016, days after military officials ruled out lifting martial law any time soon.

The admission will cause consternation among the kingdom’s international allies who had been pushing for a swift return to democracy following the military’s takeover in May. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha had previously said his government hoped to hold fresh polls around October 2015, once the drafting of a new constitution was completed.

But General Prawit Wongsuwon, the deputy prime minister and defence minister, said a 2016 election date was now more likely. “We think so,” he told reporters when asked if the poll would be held in 2016. “If the constitution is ready, the election will be held by that time,” he added.

Prawit was speaking after Finance Minister Sommai Phasee gave an interview to the BBC late Wednesday saying any return to democracy was unrealistic before mid-2016.

"As announced by the prime minister, it would take about one year. But, from my feeling, I think it may take, maybe, a year and a half," he told the British broadcaster.

Junta chief and premier Prayuth, who was army chief when he staged the May 22 coup, has said the takeover was necessary to end months of political unrest that left nearly 30 people dead.

But critics accuse the military of using the protests as an excuse for a power grab.

The minister's comments come days after a junta official told AFP martial law would only be lifted when the country "has peace and order".

Martial law - imposed by the army two days before the coup - bans political gatherings, allows the detention of dissidents for up to seven days without charge, and permits trials in a military court.