Thailand to go to the polls on Feb 24 as govt lifts ban on political activities

Thai pro-democracy activists hold placards as they gather outside the Royal Thai Army Club in Bangkok, on Dec 7, 2018.
Thai pro-democracy activists hold placards as they gather outside the Royal Thai Army Club in Bangkok, on Dec 7, 2018.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BANGKOK (REUTERS) - Thailand lifted a military-imposed ban on political activities that has been in place since 2014, a government statement published on the Royal Gazette website said on Tuesday (Dec 11), clearing the way for an election to be held on Feb 24, 2019. 

The military government imposed the strict ban when it took power in a 2014 coup, citing the need for law and order after months of street protests against the democratically elected government of former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra. 

It began easing the ban in September, when it allowed political parties to resume organising. 

In an order published online by the Royal Gazette minutes after noon Tuesday, the regime cited the need for the public and political parties to campaign freely for the upcoming election as the basis for its decision.

“The people and political parties will be able to take part in political activities during this period leading up to the election in accordance with the constitution,” the military government said the statement.

The order was signed by junta chairman and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

The document abolished a number of previous orders enacted by General Prayut in the wake of the 2014 coup, including prohibitions on political assembly and financial activities for political purposes. Legal actions taken prior to today’s order and ongoing court cases will not be affected.

Separately on Tuesday, Deputy Election Commision Secretary-General Nat Laosisawakul told reporters: "The Election Commission has set February 24, 2019, as election day."

The election, which many hope will restore democracy in Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy, will likely pit the populist political movement backed by former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and supported by many in rural areas against the military and royalist establishment. 

The Bangkok-based establishment seized power in successive coups in 2006 and 2014 and now has its own proxy political parties. 

The military government has repeatedly pushed back the general election but said last week the ban on political activities would likely be lifted later this month and that political parties would be able to start campaigning in early January.