January 30, 2018 / 9:29 AM / 20 days ago

Thai PM calls for a little more time in office to prepare for vote

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said on Tuesday he needed a little more time in office to prepare the country for a general election, just days after his deputy said a vote planned for this year could be delayed.

Prayuth, installed as prime minister in August 2014 after leading a coup that ousted a civilian government, has delayed the date of a general election several times. Most recently, he said an election would take place in November.

But last week Thailand’s parliamentary body voted to postpone enforcement of a new election law by 90 days, dragging out the time frame. At the time, the deputy prime minister said parliament’s decision could delay the election until 2019.

“Please give me some time to lay the foundation for the country, that’s all,” Prayuth told reporters after a weekly cabinet meeting on Tuesday. “The length of this time depends on the law,” he said, referring to last week’s parliamentary decision. Prayuth did not give further details.

He is under pressure at home and abroad to return to civilian governance.

On Saturday, activists demanding an election this year gathered at a pedestrian bridge in central Bangkok in a rare show of dissent.

On Tuesday deputy police chief Srivara Ransibrahmanakul said the ruling junta, formally known as the National Council for Peace and Order, had filed a complaint with police against seven leaders of Saturday’s protest.

The activists will be charged with crimes including sedition and violating a junta order that bans public gatherings of more than five people, local media reported.

Government critics say the junta is deliberately delaying the vote in order to tighten its grip on power in the Southeast Asian country by ensuring that its allies win the vote.

Some critics say Prayuth would like to stay in power after a general election. Thailand’s new constitution, which took effect last year, allows for an appointed prime minister.

Others have warned the junta needs to return Thailand to civilian rule within its promised time frame or risk fanning flames of discontent.

Prayuth addressed questions about waning public support.

“This is normal. Any government in their third year all encounter this,” he said on Tuesday.

Reporting by Aukkarapon Niyomyat and Panu Wongcha-um; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Clarence Fernandez/Mark Heinrich

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