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Politics

Thai king passes last bill that paves way for election by May

Prime minister can still delay vote until military's support base is solid

 Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has suggested that the earliest date could be Feb. 24.   © AP

BANGKOK -- Thailand's King Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun has endorsed the last two bills that were required for the country to hold a general election, which is now expected to take place between February and May next year.

This is the closest Thailand has come to holding an election since the current military regime came to power in 2014.

The bills, which state the rules for the lower house election and selection procedures for senators, were published in the Royal Gazette, the government's public journal, on Wednesday. The lower house election law will take effect 90 days after publication. The constitution states that a general election must follow within 150 days from the enactment of the law, meaning that it should be held by May at the latest.

This is a time frame that the military government had pointed to and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha had even suggested that the election could be held as early as Feb. 24.

The junta chief has also said that political activities, which have been banned since the military seized power, could resume gradually by the end of this month.

The election will be the first to be held in the country since February 2014, when the vote was later ruled to be invalid by the constitutional court. The last "valid" election was held in 2011 and won by the Pheu Thai Party led by fugitive former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. A coup led by Prayuth toppled the Yingluck regime in May 2014.

Initially, the junta promised to hold an election by October 2015. But the dates have repeatedly been pushed back and it remains to be seen if the latest promise will be kept. Prayuth earlier said that the election would be held only after the coronation ceremony of King Vajiralongkorn, but that date has not yet been announced.

Some political experts say that Prayuth could even resort to using special powers provided under the constitution to delay the election if he feels more time is required to establish a solid support base for a pro-military party.

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