Political activity ban to end Tuesday

After repeated delays, the regime has announced it will lift the ban on political activities on Tuesday when the Act on the election of MPs takes effect. Parties may then resume the work necessary to prepare for the general election as the Feb 24 poll date has been officially confirmed.

However, actual election campaigning will not be allowed until Jan 2 when a royal decree calling for the Feb 24 poll is published in the Royal Gazette.

The poll date was confirmed at a meeting on Friday between the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and representatives of political parties at the Army Club on Vibhavadi Rangsit Road. Also present were representatives from the government, the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), the Election Commission (EC) and the Constitution Drafting Committee.

However, the country's two largest parties, the Democrats and Pheu Thai, boycotted the event.

At the meeting, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam spelled out the election time frame, saying the NCPO would revoke all nine orders and announcements that prohibit political activities on Tuesday when the bill on the election of MPs is enacted.

The NCPO at present has only relaxed the ban, allowing parties to hold meetings to select executives, recruit members, give opinions on the demarcation of constituencies, and conduct primary votes to choose poll candidates.

The regime still maintains the ban on public gatherings of more than five people and political campaigning.

On Jan 4, the EC will formally announce the poll date and the new demarcation of poll constituencies, Mr Wissanu said.

Candidacy applications will be open between Jan 14 and 18 and parties will also have to submit their lists of up to three prime ministerial candidates to the EC during this period. The EC will then announce the lists of candidates contesting the constituency system and party-list candidates on Jan 25.

Overseas voting will be held between Feb 4 and 16 and advance voting will take place on Feb 17, Mr Wissanu said.

April 25 will be the last day for the announcement of poll results and April 28 will be the last day for the NCPO to finalise the list of 250 appointed senators before submitting it for royal endorsement.

Under the constitution, parliament will convene its first meeting within 15 days of the poll results being announced, or on May 9 at the latest, Mr Wissanu said.

The parliament meeting will select the House Speaker and Senate speaker, which will be followed by a process to nominate a new prime minister.

The NCPO will officially step down from power when the new cabinet is sworn in, Mr Wissanu said.

Chairing the meeting on Friday, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said it marked the first step toward restoring democracy to the country and that he appreciated the cooperation of parties taking part.

“This is the first step for Thailand to move toward democracy. The meeting is aimed at creating an understanding and confidence for all involved to carry out their duties. This will also create a climate of unity and reconciliation,” he said

“For some parties that failed to show up, I really don't know their real reasons, whether or not they want to cooperate with others.”

After emerging from the two-hour meeting, the prime minister appeared in good spirits as he talked to reporters. “The meeting went well. Everything was fine. All understood each other well,” he said. 

A total of 225 representatives from 75 political parties — almost none of them with even a remote chance of winning a seat — attended Friday’s meeting. But the Democrats and Pheu Thai were no-shows, as was Future Forward and parties affiliated with Pheu Thai such as Thai Raksa Chart.

Sora-at Klinprathum, chief adviser to the Bhumjaithai Party, said that while political parties will have limited time for election campaigning, all parties will be on the equal footing without any one having an edge over the others.

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