Thai government to soon ease restrictions on political parties

Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha talks to reporters at the government house Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018. Prayuth said after a Tuesday government meeting that he would soon ease political restrictions in order to allow political parties to prepare for elections scheduled for next year. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

Bangkok (AP) — Thailand’s military government announced Tuesday it will ease some restrictions on political parties to let them conduct basic functions and prepare for elections set for early next year, but campaigning will still be forbidden.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said after a National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) meeting that the new rules would allow political parties to hold meetings, make adjustments to regulations, appoint managers and accept new members ahead of polls loosely scheduled for February. He said the restrictions would be eased “soon” via a special executive order.

Political gatherings of five or more people were banned by the military government after it seized power from an elected government in a May 2014 coup. The ban effectively forced all political parties into dormancy.

Prayuth was given special legislative powers after the coup under what is known as Article 44, an overarching law that allows him to impose any law or regulation in the name of peace and stability.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, another member of the military government, said Tuesday the order to partially allow political parties to conduct basic functions would be issued either “today or tomorrow,” but added that it does not cover political campaigning — which would still be forbidden — and will not lift the ban on political gatherings of five or more people.

Prayuth repeated previous assertion by the military government that the next general election is tentatively scheduled for Feb. 24 at the earliest, adding that an election committee had advised that it should be held on a Sunday.

Prayuth has pushed back several promised election deadlines.

Prayuth is expected to run in the polls, or at least make himself available for the next parliament to reappoint him to the prime minister’s post. He told reporters Tuesday that he would be following the movements of other political parties “to determine what my appropriate role can be.”

“I haven’t decided anything yet today because there are still many months ahead,” said Prayuth, whose frequent official trips around the country have taken on the appearance of political campaigning.