BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand’s Puea Thai Party on Wednesday urged the ruling junta to end a ban on political activity since the 2014 coup, saying it feared a delay could signal that a general election promised for next year might be pushed back yet again.
The rare statement from the party whose government was ousted in 2014 comes amid growing calls from groups of all political stripes to scrap the ban ahead of the November 2018 election the junta has promised.
“The junta’s continued ban on political activity could provide a channel or excuse to delay elections again, as has happened before many times,” it said after an announcement by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha that the ban would stay.
The junta had said it would consider lifting the ban, which had drawn condemnation from Western governments and the United Nations, following the Oct. 29 end of a funeral ceremony for King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
But after a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Prayuth, who led the 2014 coup, said the ban would be retained because Thailand was not ready for political conflicts.
Tension has festered since 2006, when a coup removed then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Subsequent bouts of unrest included deadly street protests.
Thailand is divided broadly between those backing Thaksin and his sister, former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, whose government was removed in the 2014 coup, and the elite in the capital, Bangkok.
Thaksin is credited by some as being the first Thai prime minister to tap into the potential of the rural electorate. But his enemies accuse him of corruption, which he denies.
Thaksin and Yingluck live abroad. Yingluck fled Thailand in August, ahead of a verdict in a negligence trial that eventually found her guilty and handed down a five-year jail term. Thaksin fled to avoid a 2008 jail term for corruption.
Government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said the junta, formally known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), did not want to hold on to power.
“The NCPO has no such thought to not return power to the people, but we have to wait until country is more peaceful first,” he told Reuters.
Other political parties echoed Puea Thai’s call.
“Parties should at least be allowed to hold meetings to select new board members,” said Nipit Intharasombat, a deputy leader of the Puea Thai’s rival Democrat Party.
The continued ban lets the military gain popularity before the election, academic Titipol Phakdeewanich told Reuters.
“With the political ban in place, people only receive one-sided information, allowing the NCPO to build its credibility and discredit other parties,” said Titipol, the dean of political science at northeastern Ubon Ratchathani University.
Although Prayuth cannot stand for election, a new military-backed constitution offers a route for him to be chosen as “outside prime minister”.
Additional reporting by Aukkarapon Niyomyat; Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Clarence Fernandez