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Politics

Thailand lifts ban on political activity as campaigns kick off

Country's Election Commission reconfirms Feb. 24 poll date

Thai pro-democracy supporters protest the prolonged military rule in Bangkok in May. Elections are planned for early 2019 after more than four years of political silence.   © AP

BANGKOK -- Thailand's ruling junta lifted a ban on political activity on Tuesday, marking the start of election campaigns for the long-awaited lower house elections.

The election authority also restated that voting will take place on Feb. 24, marking the country's first national election since 2011.

The lifting of the ban came in a statement published by the Royal Gazette, the government's public journal. "The people and political parties will be able to take part in political activities during this period up to the election in accordance with the constitution," the statement read.

Thailand's military junta banned political activity after toppling the government in a 2014 coup. But in September this year, the junta, led by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, eased the ban, allowing minor activities such as party member recruitment and the selecting of leaders.

Effective immediately, political parties can begin campaigning, and groups of five or more people can gather in public. Political parties can also organize meetings, set up branches, and receive contributions.

Since the military ousted former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in 2014, the government had promised on numerous occasions to hold elections but backed out each time. The junta finally revealed its road map to a general election on Friday.

The country's election authority backed the government's plan. "The Election Commission agrees with the road map proposed by the government," said Nat Laosisawakul, deputy secretary-general of the authority.

"If the royal decree is given on Jan. 2 as the road map suggests, the general election will be held on Feb. 24," he added.

Two days after the royal decree declaring an election, the Election Commission can officially announce the poll date.

Lower house candidates will have from Jan. 14 to Jan. 18 to file the necessary paperwork to run for office. The election authority will have until Apr. 25 to announce the results of the Feb. 24 election.

Claiming the need to restore law and order after continuous protests in 2014, the junta banned all political activity. If the upcoming campaigns turn violent, the junta could again postpone elections.

"Everyone must think about the nation's peace," Prayuth told reporters on Tuesday. "There should not be chaos again," he added.

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