Thai junta partially lifts political ban

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Political parties in Thailand have regained some of their freedoms, following an agreement on Tuesday by the government's military-appointed Cabinet.

As a result of the deal, parties are now allowed to meet and hold activities, opening the way for elections that are tentatively planned for December. However, a ban on forming new political parties remains in effect, until at least next week. Government spokesman Nattawat Suthiyothin said a bill on new parties would be forwarded to the National Legislative Assembly. And the Cabinet says that the ban on leaders of dissolved political parties remains in effect.

Political gatherings and activities had been banned by the junta since the military's overthrow of the civilian government in September of last year. But in the face of recent protests, the military's ruling body, the Council for National Security, agreed on Monday to recommend that political activities be allowed.

The move by the Cabinet comes six days after a Constitutional Tribunal in which the former ruling party, Thai Rak Thai was ordered dissolved and its leaders, including ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra banned from politics for five years. Thai Rak Thai was found guilty of violations in the April 2006 general election. Another prominent party, the opposition Democrat Party, was also on trial, but was allowed to remain intact.

Though the junta has outlawed political gatherings, demonstrations have still been tolerated in Bangkok. One of the largest came on Saturday, when 6,000 supporters of a satellite television station, PTV, held a rally. The pro-Thaksin PTV has been taken off the air by the junta, as have several pro-Thaksin websites. The junta also ordered that text messages be sent to mobile-phone subscribers, asking them to stay away from demonstrations.

But the junta has shown signs of moving the nation back towards the democratic process, with the leader of the coup, Council for National Security chairman General Sonthi Boonyaratglin suggesting an amnesty for the banned political leaders. The idea was widely criticized, though, and Sonthi later retracted his statement, saying the amnesty notion had been proposed by the National Legislative Assembly.