Thailand’s political activity ban stays for now – PM

Thailand’s military government on Tuesday said it will not yet lift a ban on political activity, despite a general election scheduled for next year and growing pressure from political parties to lift it.

The ban on political party gatherings has been in place since the military seized power in a 2014 coup but there have been growing calls from all political groups to end the ban. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha cited persistent political divisions and mud-slinging as reasons why the ban should stay.

“We will not lift the ban today but don’t be frustrated,” Prayuth told reporters after a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday. “Today we are still speaking evil. You must stop this so that everyone is at ease,” Prayuth said, urging all sides to put aside their differences.

Earlier this month, Prayuth said Thailand would hold a general election in November 2018 – the news was largely welcomed by investors in Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy. There has been little opposition to junta rule since 2014, partly because authorities have arrested and jailed dozens of critics.

The government had said that parties needed to wait until after the funeral of Thailand’s late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who was cremated last week, for a decision on when normal political life will resume. Tensions have been festering in Thailand since 2006 when a coup removed then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

Since then, the country has witnessed bouts of unrest including deadly street protests. Thailand is divided broadly between those who align themselves with 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 he made many enemies among the elite who accuse him of corruption – which he denies.

Both Thaksin and Yingluck live abroad. Yingluck fled Thailand in August ahead of a verdict against her in a negligence trial for which she was later found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison. Thaksin fled to avoid a 2008 jail corruption sentence.

Politicians from major parties were upset about the decision not to lift the political activity ban on Tuesday. “I want the junta to show some sincerity about the election by lifting the ban,” Sunisa Lertpakawat, a member of Thaksin’s Puea Thai Party, told Reuters. “We haven’t got much time.”