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Thai election faces delay as junta says 'coronation first'

Polls slated for February will be after royal ceremony

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, left, at the funeral procession and royal cremation ceremony of late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, in Bangkok in 2017.   © AP

BANGKOK -- Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said Tuesday that general elections, slated for February 2019, will not take place before the coronation of King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, suggesting the country’s return to civilian rule could be delayed again.

Speaking to reporters after a weekly cabinet meeting, the junta leader said the coronation of the king, who ascended the throne in 2016, was “an important subject that all Thais must not forget.” He abruptly raised the issue, which had not been talked about in recent months, when he was asked by reporters about the election.

He said “the most important agenda” discussed at Tuesday’s meeting was preparation for coronation and when asked if the election will be held before the ceremony, Prayuth answered “after.”

Royals and heads of states from around the world are expected to be invited to the ceremony. The coronation of King Vajiralongkorn’s father, the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, held in 1950 welcomed guests from 42 countries. Preparation could take months, suggesting that the election could be pushed back again.

“Don’t try to say that I’m trying to make an excuse,” Prayuth said. “I don’t want anyone to try to connect [the coronation] with politics. It’s a different story.”

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam met with reporters afterward and said the coronation date had not been decided. “I don’t know, it is under the king’s consideration,” he said.

Thailand is a constitutional monarchy but has one of the strictest lese majeste laws in the world. Thai society places high priority on the monarchy and it is unlikely that the coronation would be held in line with election campaigns.

When he came to power in a 2014 coup, Prayuth promised to hold an election by October 2015 and return the country to civilian rule. However, the dates have kept slipping and the junta has clung on to power.

Prayuth is planning a five-day tour in Europe from Wednesday, to meet with British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron. This marks a turnaround for the junta leader who was shunned by the West when he first seized control. It is understood that he will call for more investment in Thailand from the European countries.

Human rights groups are calling on May and Macron to remind Prayuth that he must return Thailand to democratic rule as a priority.

Last October, Prayuth met with U.S. President Donald Trump and vowed to hold an election by November 2018. 

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