December 19, 2017 / 7:46 AM / in 10 months

Thai junta says to allow parties to get ready for 2018 election

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said on Tuesday he would use a special order that gives the military sweeping powers to allow political parties to prepare for next year’s general election.

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha attends the opening session of the 31st ASEAN Summit in Manila, Philippines, November 13, 2017. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

Major parties had urged the government for months to lift a ban on political activity, which has been in place since a 2014 coup, to allow them to get ready for the vote.

Prayuth, who is also head of the junta, said he would use the special order, known as Article 44, to solve a political deadlock.

“The government will have to use Article 44 to solve this problem (political activity deadlock),” Prayuth told reporters, referring to a constitutional clause that grants the military absolute powers.

Government spokesperson Sansern Kaewkamnerd said Prayuth would allow parties to take some steps outlined in Thailand’s new constitution, including reviewing their membership list and ensuring they have at least 500 members to qualify them to run in the November 2018 poll.

“The meeting is not considering lifting the ban on political activities at the moment,” Sansern said.

The military has been running Thailand since the May 2014 coup when it ousted the civilian government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, ending years of political turmoil, including pro- and anti-government street protests.

A coup in 2006 ousted Yingluck’s brother, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose supporters have dominated the polls since 2001.

The 2014 coup saw some Western countries downgrade ties with Bangkok. Earlier this month, the European Union said it would resume political contact “at all levels” with Thailand after putting relations on hold.

That announcement came after Prayuth said a general election would he held next November.

(This version of the story corrects to clarify that PM’s order will allow parties to prepare for elections, not lift a ban on politics.)

Reporting by Aukkarapong Niyomyat; Additional reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat and Suphanida Thakral; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Nick Macfie

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