BANGKOK: Registration for new political parties in Thailand began on Friday with the Election Commission (EC) noting that 34 groups turned up to register, the first sign of political activity being officially allowed in the country since a 2014 coup.
The registration opening comes days after Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former army chief who led a 2014 coup, said that a general election would take place "no later" than February 2019, pushing back the vote by several months. The vote delay has fuelled growing protests in the Thai capital Bangkok in recent weeks. Aspiring founders of new parties picked up documents on Friday to register party names at the Election Commission's headquarters north of Bangkok. "This is the first time ... that we have opened registration. There are 34 parties which is a lot and it shows us that people are interested in taking part in politics and that they want a general election," Jarungvith Phumma, acting secretary-general of the Election Commission, told reporters on Friday. Thailand currently has 69 registered, political parties. Thailand has been bitterly divided since a 2006 coup against then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a businessman turned politician who gained the adoration of rural voters but made many enemies among the military-royalist elite. After the restoration of democracy, the military again intervened in 2014 to topple a civilian government led by Thaksin's sister, Yingluck Shinawatra. The Election Commission has said those who want to register a new party for the general election will have until the end of March to do so. One of those is Suthep Thaugsuban, a former deputy prime minister turned street protest leader who led demonstrations in Bangkok in 2013/14 that helped to oust Yingluck's government. "We are ready to field candidates in the South and in Bangkok ... I cannot tell you more yet but we already have the names of those who we want as prime minister in mind," Thani Thaugsuban, a former Democrat Party lawmaker and Suthep's brother, told Reuters on Wednesday. Some groups wanting to register may face hurdles under the Political Parties Act that require parties to at least have 500 registered members and 1 million baht ($31,776.29) in party funding.