Thailand’s military government enacted two new laws that set in motion a countdown leading to elections by May 2019 at the latest – five years after a coup d’etat.
The laws, which received royal endorsement on Wednesday with their publication in the Royal Gazette, cover the selection of members of parliament and senators.
The act covering lower-house legislators becomes effective in 90 days and mandates that elections be held within 150 days after that, effectively setting a legal deadline in May next year.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who heads the regime that seized power in the 2014 coup, said last month a general election was likely to be held on February 24 but left open the possibility of a later date.
The ruling generals have previously set dates for elections but then postponed them.
Five hundred legislators will be elected in the lower house, while 250 senators will be appointed. Several senate seats are reserved for the military.
Thailand’s latest constitution, pushed through by the military government, is designed to limit the power of political parties, with election rules designed to keep any single party from winning a clear majority. It also gives the senate more powers than previous charters.
Shelving the Shinawatras
The rules are mostly meant to curb the political machine of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose populist policies won him enormous support and threatened the influence of traditional power holders, including the military.
Thaksin was deposed by a 2006 military coup, but his following remained strong. His sister Yingluck Shinawatra became prime minister in 2011, only to have her government also toppled by the army in 2014.
Prayuth, who led the 2014 military takeover, has been coy about whether he wants to serve as prime minister again after the election but has been making campaign-like appearances around the country, while his backers have lined up support from influential politicians.
Political gatherings of five or more people were banned by the military government after it seized power, effectively forcing all political parties into dormancy while the generals quashed dissent and consolidated their rule.
Late last month, the military government announced it would ease some restrictions on political parties to let them conduct basic functions and prepare for elections, but campaigning will remain prohibited for the time being.
Prayuth said the new rules would allow political parties to hold meetings, appoint managers, and accept new members ahead of the polls.