THAI elections will now take place “no later” than February 2019, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said on Tuesday, months later than the previously promised November deadline.
This the latest in a string delays imposed by the junta since they seized power in a 2014 coup that overthrew a civilian government. The latest date was set for November but last month the military-appointed legislature changed the election law, pointing to further delay.
“Now I will answer clearly, an election will take place no later than February 2019,” Prayuth, who is under growing pressure both at home and abroad to return to civilian government, told reporters in Bangkok, the capital.
Pro-democracy activists have gathered in Bangkok in recent days to protest the military rule and demand the junta does not delay the elections again.
The latest election delay has shattered people’s confidence in Prayuth’s timeframe, said Phongthep Thepkanjana, a former deputy prime minister and a senior member of the opposition Pheu Thai Party that represents the ousted Shinawatra family.
“I think many Thais, like me, no longer give a lot of weight to what the prime minister has to say right now,” Phongthep said.
“The delay is a symptom of those in power who know that once an election takes place they will no longer have power. That is why they want to delay election.”
Critics say Prayuth wants to delay the vote to ensure the military retains a key role in political life.
He has hinted he would like to stay in power after any election, which is possible under the junta-backed constitution that allows for an “outsider” to be appointed prime minister. Prayuth has even been carrying out meet-and-greet sessions and community visits, looking very much like an election campaign.
“If Prayuth wants to step down smoothly, it has to be November this year and no other date,” said Rangsiman Rome, a leader of the Democracy Restoration Group (DRG) that organised a weekend protest.
There are plans for future protests in the capital and further afield in Chiang Mai in the north, and Khon Kaen in northeastern Thailand. The DRG is organising rallies in March as well as every Saturday in May, culminating in a final four-day event to mark the four-year anniversary of the 2014 coup.
“We will make May the month for all Thais to think about election and think about how our country should move forward,” Rangsiman said.
Additional reporting by Reuters