BANGKOK - Thailand's military junta announced Tuesday it will ease some restrictions on political parties to let them conduct basic functions and prepare for elections set for early next year, but campaigning will still be forbidden.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said after a junta meeting that the new rules would allow political parties to hold meetings, make adjustments to regulations, appoint managers and accept new members ahead of polls loosely scheduled for February. He said the restrictions would be eased "soon" via a special executive order.
Political gatherings of five or more people were banned by the military junta after it seized power from an elected government in a May 2014 coup. The ban effectively forced all political parties into dormancy while the junta actively quashed dissent against its rule.
Prayuth was given special legislative powers after the coup under what is known as Article 44, an overarching law that allows the junta leader to impose any law or regulation in the name of peace and stability.
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, another member of the junta, said Tuesday the order to partially allow political parties to conduct basic functions would be issued either "today or tomorrow," but added that it does not cover political campaigning — which would still be forbidden — and will not lift the ban on political gatherings of five or more people.
Prayuth repeated previous assertion by the military government that the next general election is tentatively scheduled for Feb. 24 at the earliest, adding that an election committee had advised that it should be held on a Sunday.
Prayuth has pushed back several promised election deadlines.
In June, he said the election could only take place after a coronation ceremony is held for Thailand's new king, who assumed the throne after the death of his father in 2016. No date has been fixed for the coronation.
Prayuth is expected to run in the polls, or at least make himself available for the next parliament to reappoint him to the prime minister's post. He told reporters Tuesday that he would be following the movements of other political parties "to determine what my appropriate role can be."
"I haven't decided anything yet today because there are still many months ahead," said Prayuth, whose frequent official trips around the country have taken on the appearance of political campaigning.