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Thailand to hold election no later than February: PM

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Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. reuters

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said yesterday that a general election he had promised to hold in November would take place “no later” than February 2019, the latest delay to anger critics of the government.

The junta has promised and postponed elections several times since its 2014 coup overthrew a civilian government. The latest date was set for November but last month the military-appointed legislature changed the election law, pointing to further delay.

“Now I will answer clearly, an election will take place no later than February 2019,” Prayuth, who is under increasing pressure both at home and abroad to return to civilian governance, told reporters in Bangkok.

Hundreds of people have flocked to Bangkok in recent weeks to urge the military government not to delay the vote, some of the biggest anti-junta demonstrations seen since 2014.

The latest election delay has shattered people’s confidence in Prayuth’s timeframe, said Phongthep Thepkanjana, a former deputy prime minister and a senior member of the opposition Pheu Thai Party that represents the Shinawatra family.

Thailand is divided broadly between those backing former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister, Yingluck, whose government was removed in the coup, and the elite in Bangkok.

“I think many Thais, like me, no longer give a lot of weight to what the prime minister has to say right now,” Phongthep told Reuters.

However, the announcement gave investors clarity about Thailand’s political future, said Ongart Klampaiboon, deputy leader of the rival Democrat Party.

“This will create more confidence for people in the country, as well as foreign investors and businesspeople who need to assess the political situation in their plans,” he told Reuters.

In January, parliament voted to extend by 90 days the start date for a new election law. The bill lays out rules for lower house elections and is one of four that need to take effect before the vote.

Critics say Prayuth wants to delay the vote to ensure the military retains a key role in political life.

He has hinted he would like to stay in power after any election, which is possible under the junta-backed constitution that allows for an “outsider” to be appointed prime minister.

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