BANGKOK (AP) — Thailand's long-delayed election appeared in danger of further postponement Friday after the military junta-appointed legislature voted to delay the implementation of a piece of legislation needed for the poll.
The National Legislative Assembly voted late Thursday to extend the start date for a new election law by 90 days. The junta's top legal adviser, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, said the extension would push back the election until as late as February 2019.
Thailand's junta toppled an elected government in 2014 and has repeatedly promised elections, first in 2015, only to never hold them as its appointees rewrite the nation's laws. Junta leader and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha most recently said a poll would be held in November 2018.
The world's only nation still under formal military rule, Thailand is under increasing pressure both at home and abroad to return to civilian governance. The latest election delay comes as Prayuth has hinted that he'd like to stay in power after any election, something that would be possible under a new junta-backed constitution that allows for an appointed prime minister.
Prawit Wongsuwan, a key junta member and defense minister, told reporters Friday that the election pushback would not affect the international community's faith in the government.
"Foreign countries want us to have elections, and we will have one," Prawit said. "It is just being deferred for three months."
Members of the ousted government said the junta appeared to be delaying the poll until it could ensure that it or its allies would win any public vote or could at least appoint a military-backed prime minister to lead the next government.
"As long as the NCPO and the military are not sure that they will be able to come back to power after the election, there will not be an election," said Chaturon Chaisaeng, the education minister in the ousted government. The junta is formally known as the National Council for Peace and Order, or NCPO.
Prayuth, who was attending a regional summit in India, said the decision to delay the election law was made by the legislature and not him.
"I am not able to interfere because these are legal issues that involve the responsible departments," Prayuth said, according to a statement posted Friday on a government Facebook page. "If we mess with legal matters too much, everything that follows will collapse."
Prayuth holds absolute power under rules he implemented when he staged the coup, and he regularly uses them to bypass normal legal and legislative procedures.