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Thailand: Junta Chief Announces Election Timeframe for 2018

Wilawan Watcharasakwet
Bangkok
2017-10-10
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Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha talks to reporters following a cabinet meeting in Bangkok, Sept. 2, 2017.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha talks to reporters following a cabinet meeting in Bangkok, Sept. 2, 2017.
Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha announced a potential timeframe Tuesday for general elections in 2018 that would be the first since his military government seized power in a coup three years ago.

Previously, Prayuth had discussed holding a national election before he pulled back on his comments, citing national security concerns and unfinished election laws. After meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House earlier this month, Prayuth told business leaders in Washington that Thailand would hold a general election next year, but did not announce a timeframe.

On Tuesday, he added clarity to his previous announcement.

“Around June 2018, we will announce an election date. And around November, we will hold the elections ... this is very clear,” Prayuth told reporters at Government House in Bangkok, following his weekly cabinet session and a meeting of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), the official name of the junta he leads.

The national election would be the first since the NCPO came to power in May 2014. Prayuth, a retired general, became prime minister after leading a military coup that overthrew then-Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

The election announcement comes weeks after Yingluck fled Thailand in August before she was to appear in court to hear the verdict in a rice subsidy scheme during her tenure. A month later, she was sentenced in absentia to five years, while government officials said they were unsure of her whereabouts.

Yingluck’s older brother Thaksin, another former prime minister, suffered a similar coup in 2006 and has been living in exile since 2008. Last week, the attorney general announced that he was filing a royal defamation charge against Thaksin.

Thaksin challenges charges

In a message posted on Twitter late Monday, Thaksin denied that he had insulted the Thai monarchy, and he threatened to take legal action against whomever used his name to defame to royal family.

“I was extremely concerned when I heard about the Lese-Majeste message that mentioned my name,” he tweeted, adding that he never considered offending the royal institution.

Thailand’s strict Lese-Majeste law prohibits defaming, insulting or threatening the Thai royal family. Conviction carries a penalty of three to 15 years in prison.

“I will ask my lawyer to sue everyone who claims I offended the royal institution,” Thaksin tweeted.

Additionally, he ordered his lawyer to submit petition to the attorney general to reconsider the accusations against him.

Attorney General Khemchai Chutiwong told reporters on Friday that Thaksin would be charged under Lese-Majeste and for computer-related crimes, but without providing details.

Since Prayuth seized power in May 2014, at least 82 people have been charged under Lese-Majeste, according to iLaw, a rights advocacy group.

Prayuth: do not campaign

Announcing his plan for an election next year, Prime Minister Prayuth also admonished political parties to refrain from campaigning.

“The NCPO will consider lifting a ban on political activities at an appropriate time. Until then, all politicians and political parties shall maintain peace and order because it will impact the relaxation of the political restrictions,” he said.

Sunisa Lertpakawat, a former deputy spokesman from Pheu Thai party, asked Prayuth to relax political activities after the royal cremation ceremony for the late King Phumipol Adulyadej, which is coming up later in October. Pheu Thai is the opposition party linked to the Shinawatras.

“There are many process that political parties have to prepare for the election. After October, Gen. Prayuth should allow people to express their political opinion to create political participation and get them ready for the coming general election,” Sunisa told reporters.

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