BANGKOK • More than a dozen members of an assembly appointed by Thailand's junta have resigned to be able to contest elections, one of the first signs of political activity ahead of a poll set tentatively for next year.
The military government had initially promised a vote within 18 months of a May 2014 coup, but the timetable has slipped - intensifying suspicion among government critics about the army's real willingness to relinquish power.
The vice-chairman of the National Reform Steering Assembly, which shapes government policies, said 25 of its 200 members had resigned ahead of a July 4 constitutional deadline they needed to meet if they were to stand.
"Most of them want to retain their right to run as Members of Parliament in the next election," Mr Alongkorn Ponlaboot told Reuters yesterday. Not all those who had resigned were planning to take part in politics, he said.
Among those who quit were former military men, veteran politicians and an economist. One said he hoped to build a coalition in support of military ruler Prayut Chan-o-cha.
Associate Professor Yuttaporn Issarachai, dean of political science at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, said: "The resignations signal that we are now in general election mode. People typically need about a year to campaign. This is the start of that."
GEARING UP FOR POLLS
The resignations signal that we are now in general election mode.
ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR YUTTAPORN ISSARACHAI, dean of political science at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University.
On one side is the Democrat Party, Thailand's oldest, which is popular with middle-class voters and has strong support in Bangkok and parts of the south.
On the other is the Puea Thai party of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose parties have won every election since 2001 by appealing to poorer voters in the populous north-east.
Although junta leader, Mr Prayut, has said he does not plan to form a political party, he has frequently criticised what he called the "bad politicians" of the past, and some politicians have voiced support for keeping him in office.
One of the lawmakers who resigned, Mr Suchart Chanthornchotikon, said he wanted to form a coalition of small parties to challenge larger parties, and which could support Mr Prayut as a candidate for prime minister.
"We don't want to set up a military party, but we want to be able to challenge the big parties," he said.