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No Election in Thailand Seen Until 2016

FILE - Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha (C), his wife Naraporn Chan-ocha (2nd R) and his cabinet pray for the health of Thailand's revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, at the Siriraj hospital in Bangkok.

Authorities in Thailand, which is under martial law and being run by a retired general, said they do not foresee holding elections next year as originally promised.

A senior official told reporters Thursday that it is impossible to hold a national election next year because of groups in Thailand who oppose the ruling junta, named the National Council for Peace and Order.

Prawit Wongsuwan, a retired commander-in-chief of the Royal Thai army who holds the posts of defense minister and deputy prime minister in the junta's cabinet, also said authorities need more time to write a new constitution.

Prawit says Thailand “will be able to organize elections around the start of 2016 once the constitution is drafted.”

Previously, coup instigator and now prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha had promised a return to democracy with elections around October of 2015.

Sunai Phasuk, the senior researcher on Thailand for the international non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch, said the slipping timeline for polling is not unexpected.

“It’s not a surprise at all. It’s clear that the junta have no commitment to fulfill the promise to restore democratic civilian rule within a year,” said Sunai.

The previous constitution was scrapped by then-army chief Prayuth and a committee appointed to draft a new one after the general toppled Thailand’s civilian government six months ago in a bloodless coup. It was the latest in a long series of political interventions by the military over the decades to oust elected or appointed governments.

Human Rights Watch earlier this week lamented that Thailand “had fallen into an apparently bottomless pit” because “criticism is systematically prosecuted, political activity is banned, media is censored and dissidents are tried in military courts.”

In that current atmosphere, Sunai said, it is not possible to conduct a credible election.

“Political activity, including activity of political parties, has been banned. There is no assurance that when an election happens it is going to be a free and fair election where everyone can contest freely, can express their campaign freely,” he said.

Junta officials have acknowledged that a primary objective of the May 22 coup is to permanently eradicate the political influence of the Shinawatra clan. Political parties allied with the wealthy family have won every national election since 2001, in large part by appealing to the disaffected poor in the rural north.

Thaksin Shinawatra was ousted as prime minister in a coup in 2006 and is now considered a fugitive in exile. His sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, was forced out of the same post shortly before this year’s coup.

Some analysts, who do not want to speak for attribution, also say the latest coup was timed to ensure a royalist faction of the military took charge over the country at a time of growing concern about the extremely sensitive issue of monarchical succession.

King Bhumipol, widely revered, celebrates his 87th birthday next week and has been in frail health for years.

Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn is not as popular as his father - the world’s longest reigning monarch. Any open discussion about the royal family is muzzled due to harsh lese majeste laws.