Junta leader Prayut Chan-o-cha. -AFP
The toppled Thai opposition on Thursday called on the ruling junta to lift the ban on political activities as the countdown begins for the kingdom's first election since a 2014 coup.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn endorsed two bills on Wednesday that clear the bureaucratic hurdles to a poll, which has been promised and delayed for years by the junta.
An election is required to take place by May. Junta critics want to hold political gatherings, which have been banned since a coup four years ago toppled the Puea Thai government led by Yingluck Shinawatra, Thailand's first female premier. "We demand for the junta to lift the political activities ban as soon as possible," Pichai Naripthaphan, an ex-minister in Yingluck's cabinet, told Agence France-Presse.
"As the country heads to an election, we need to create a good atmosphere so that people can express their opinions." Senior junta figures have floated a Feb 24 poll date.
Pichai said that date is now increasingly likely. He cautioned the National Council for Peace Order (NCPO) - the political name of the junta government - against postponing it again. "If the NCPO postpones it again, there will be local and international pressure," he said.
Puea Thai is affiliated to the Shinawatra clan, a powerful and wealthy political family whose parties and proxies have won every Thai general election since 2001. But coups and court rulings have toppled their governments, pushing Yingluck.
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