The 2019 general election will likely be held by May 5 next year, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam after a pre-poll meeting at the Army Club between politicians and the regime.
Politicians appeared satisfied as they emerged after the discussion on Monday afternoon, citing "positive signs: even though the poll date and the political activities ban have yet to be resolved.
Seventy-three political parties and groups sent representatives to the meeting hosted by the government at the Army Club in Bangkok to discuss legal issues and regulations hindering political activities in the lead-up to the election tentatively set for February next year.
The discussion touched on a possible election date with Feb 24 next year proposed by the politicians, in accordance with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha's election roadmap.
No agreement was reached, however, and Mr Wissanu indicated the election date is in flux.
He said the time frame will be determined by constitutional stipulations and legislative steps. He told reporters that various dates were possible ranging from Feb 24 at the earlies and May 5.
Gen Prayut previously promised polls "definitely in February". Last week in England, he changed that to "early in 2019" after British Prime Minister Theresa May pressed him on the details.
Mr Wissanu on Monday also said the junta would ease a ban on political activity by parties between September and December this year, allowing them to undertake administrative tasks in preparation for the election.
But bans on public gatherings of more than five people and political campaigning would remain in place during that period, Wissanu said.
"What they can do is hold party meetings without permission. The meetings would enable them to decide on party regulations, find party members, discuss with the election commission the division of constituencies and determine party candidates," he said.
The major parties in attendance at Monday's meeting included the Democrats, Chartthaipattana, Bhumjaithai, and Chartthaipattana. The Pheu Thai and Future Forward parties stayed away.
The government side was headed by Deputy Prime Ministers Gen Prawit Wongsuwon and Mr Wissanu. They were joined by the chairman and secretary-general of the Election Commission (EC).
On the election date, Mr Wissanu said customarily, elections usually take place on the last Sunday of the month. It was suggested that the general election be held Feb 24 next year.
However, he said the date would be picked by the EC, not the cabinet or the NCPO, while noting that if things proceeded without any further delays, a February election was possible.
"The picture will become clearer when political parties are invited for a second round of talks. The prime minister will chair that meeting," said Mr Wissanu.
Political parties reiterated their concerns about the political activities ban which prevents them from holding primaries to screen MP candidates, which is constitutionally required ahead of the general election.
The EC also faces a tight schedule to re-draw constituency boundaries. Without these decided, political parties cannot hold primaries.
According to Mr Wissanu, the political ban would not be eased until the organic bill on the election of MPs is published in the Royal Gazette.
The bill is pending royal endorsement and that period can take up to 90 days before its publication.
Mr Wissanu said parties came up with several proposals concerning the primaries. Calls were made to scrap them or limit them to local polls.
The deputy prime minister said the proposals will be discussed by the National Legislative Assembly and the Constitution Drafting Committee.
Meanwhile, Nikorn Chamnong, director of the Chartthaipattana Party, said the talks were fruitful despite several issues remaining unresolved.
He said the parties mostly agreed with a Feb 24 poll date because it was in line with Gen Prayut’s election roadmap.
Democrat deputy leader Jurin Laksanavisit said he was satisfied because there were assurances the political activities ban would be eased despite the primaries issue being unresolved.
- Earlier report: 74 parties attend regime meeting