Thai elections may be delayed until 2016

Thailand's junta said Thursday elections in the military-ruled kingdom would likely be delayed until 2016, days after military officials ruled out lifting martial law any time soon.

The admission will cause consternation among the kingdom's international allies who had been pushing for a swift return to democracy following the military's takeover in May.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha had previously said his government hoped to hold fresh polls around October 2015, once the drafting of a new constitution was completed.

But General Prawit Wongsuwon, the deputy prime minister and defence minister, said a 2016 election date was now more likely.

"We think so," he told reporters when asked if the poll would be held in 2016.

"If the constitution is ready, the election will be held by that time," he added.

Prawit was speaking after Finance Minister Sommai Phasee gave an interview to the BBC late Wednesday saying any return to democracy was unrealistic before mid-2016.

"As announced by the prime minister, it would take about one year. But, from my feeling, I think it may take, maybe, a year and a half," he told the British broadcaster.

Sommai said he had spoken to General Prayut about the feasibility of holding polls as recently as last week.

The confirmation from senior government figures of a likely election delay comes days after a junta official told AFP martial law would only be lifted when the country "has peace and order".

Martial law -- imposed by the army two days before the coup -- bans political gatherings, allows the detention of dissidents for up to seven days without charge, and permits trials in a military court.

Junta chief and premier Prayut -- who was army chief when he staged the May 22 coup -- has said the takeover was necessary to end months of political unrest that left nearly 30 people dead.

But critics accuse the military of using the protests as an excuse for a power grab.

A council selected by the junta is currently working on a raft of reforms to be introduced before any return to democracy, including a new constitution.

The military say the changes are needed to rid the kingdom of corruption and close the nation's festering political divide which has seen years of street protests and military coups.

But critics dismiss the process as a naked attempt to dilute the influence of billionaire ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra who is adored by poor rural voters -- particularly in the north -- but loathed by much of the military establishment and the country's Bangkok-based royalist elite.

Opponents say the committee tasked with writing the new constitution is stacked with anti-Thaksin figures seeking to erase his legacy rather than craft policies to end years of political turmoil.

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