BANGKOK • Political parties in Thailand were yesterday allowed to resume organising for the first time since a 2014 military coup, in anticipation of a general election due by May next year, but a ban on gatherings of more than five people remains in place.
The military government has promised and repeatedly delayed a general election, but steps taken this week - including royal endorsement of laws on the election of MPs and the selection of senators - are the surest signs yet that the schedule for a return of democratic rule is being fixed.
"Political parties will be allowed to conduct important activities ahead of the election," the military government said in a statement published in the Royal Gazette.
Parties will now be permitted to elect their leaders, recruit new members and hold general party meetings if they are able to summon at least 250 members.
The government did not explicitly say the ban on public gatherings of more than five people remained in place, but it said parties could not campaign.
"Parties can communicate with their members electronically, but not appear to be campaigning," the government said, while warning that the authorities could block such communication "if it is illegal or a breach of public peace".
The military has been running Thailand since the May 2014 coup, in which it ousted the civilian government of then Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, citing the need to end street protests, and banned political activity in the name of peace and order.
Parties can communicate with their members electronically, but not appear to be campaigning.
THAILAND'S MILITARY GOVERNMENT, in a statement published in the Royal Gazette.
The ban has quelled overt rivalry between populist political forces and the old Bangkok-based establishment, which had triggered bouts of violence and military interventions in politics for over a decade.
But divisions remain just below the surface.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, leader of the junta, has spent months positioning himself for a potential run at the next election. Despite insisting he has no interest in politics - only in maintaining peace and order - the gruff former general is expected to front an army-aligned party in the next election.
For months, he has been going around the country promising economic development, wooing local politicians with promised investment and showing his softer side to the electorate with endless photo opportunities.
The election will be held under a new Constitution, written by an army-appointed committee, which critics say is designed to prolong the military's influence over politics for years to come through unelected bodies and other mechanisms.
The military says the Constitution should eliminate cycles of political instability.
An election date has not been officially set but senior government officials have said it will be held by May next year.
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan told reporters on Thursday that the election would be held on Feb 24, but the Election Commission has yet to confirm a date.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE