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Thailand to hold first general election since military coup

By
Elizabeth Shim
Pro-democracy demonstrators in Bangkok, Thailand, protest the postponement of a general election on Saturday. Photo by Rungroj Yongrit/EPA-EFE
Pro-democracy demonstrators in Bangkok, Thailand, protest the postponement of a general election on Saturday. Photo by Rungroj Yongrit/EPA-EFE

Jan. 23 (UPI) -- Thailand is to hold a much anticipated election for the first time in five years after a military coup in 2014.

Bangkok's Election Committee agreed to hold a general election on March 24 after Thailand's King Maha Vajirilongkorn issued a royal decree on Wednesday, calling for a general election in 2019, CNN and local news services reported.

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"Today, in the afternoon, the Election Committee had held a meeting and has reached an agreement to designate March 24 as a general election date for the members of the House of Representatives," said Ittiporn Boonpracong, chairman of the Election Commission of Thailand.

The election is being slightly delayed; expectations were high polling would take place on Feb. 24, but Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam later suggested the vote would be postponed until March 24.

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King Maha is to be crowned in May.

Former army Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha currently rules Thailand after taking control in a coup on May 22, 2014. His rise to power ended months of street protests and former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's term of office.

Prayut said he would run in the election and said he would join a party that is "dedicated, truly selfless and determined to change the country for the better, not one which seeks to undo everything this government has started."

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The military could continue to stay in power even if a pro-military party does not win, according to CNN. A new constitution guarantees the junta's power to appoint a prime minister and a third of the Thai legislature.

The military has suppressed dissent for years, according to Human Rights Watch.

Dissidents critical of the army and Thailand's royal family may be being targeted, and fears of intimidation are rising, following the discovery of two mutilated bodies at the end of December.

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The BBC reported Tuesday the bodies stuffed with concrete were those of Kraidej Luelert and Chatchan Buphawan, former aides of a critic of the Thai monarchy.

The activists were living in Laos after 2014, according to reports.

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