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Thailand to hold elections in November next year

BANGKOK Thailand's Prime Minister said yesterday the country will hold elections in November next year, more than four years after the military seized power and imposed a blanket ban on politics.

General Prayut Chan-o-Cha had promised immediately after his May 2014 coup to return power to civilians within 18 months.

That date has repeatedly slipped, and even after the vote, analysts said there will be limits on democracy under the junta's new charter.

"In November 2018 there will be an election. Is it clear?" the often gruff General Prayut told reporters, adding that he would announce the exact date next June.

He said he would also "consider the timing for relaxing conditions on political parties at the appropriate time".

All politics and protests have been banned under Gen Prayut's regime, the most autocratic Thailand has seen for a generation. The elections will not restore the same level of democracy that existed before the latest military takeover in Thailand - a country that has seen more than a dozen coups since it first embraced parliamentary rule in 1932.

After seizing power, the generals drafted a new charter that curbs the power of elected politicians and calls for a fully appointed Upper House, with several spots reserved for military leaders.

The junta has further enshrined its governmental role by declaring that any future administration must adhere to its "legally binding 20-year-plan" for the country.

Gen Prayut travelled to the United States earlier this month for talks with President Donald Trump at the White House - a meeting he was denied under Mr Barack Obama's administration, which distanced itself from the coup leader.

A joint statement afterwards said Mr Trump welcomed Thailand's commitment to hold "free and fair elections in 2018".

That unexpected announcement caused a commotion back in the kingdom, where Gen Prayut initially rowed back and said only that a specific date would be announced next year.

He also said that Mr Trump did not ask about political developments during their encounter.- AFP

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