Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha gestures during a news conference after a weekly cabinet meeting at Government House in Bangkok, Thailand, January 9, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha(reuters_tickers)
By Panu Wongcha-um and Aukkarapon Niyomyat
BANGKOK (Reuters) - Representatives of 114 political groups met Thailand's election panel on Friday, in one of the first signs the country is readying for a general election the junta has promised to hold in November, with many pledging support for the ruling military.
Thailand's military took power in a 2014 coup, but has since postponed several times a planned election to restore democracy, with November the latest date set by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.
Some political parties and rights groups have questioned whether the junta is deliberately delaying the vote to consolidate its own power.
Although Prayuth cannot stand for election, a new military-backed constitution offers a route for him to be chosen as "outside prime minister".
The military, which has put a strict ban on political activities, has said it will allow new parties to begin registration in March.
Several groups at Friday's gathering, which aimed to explain how to register new political parties, expressed strong support for Prayuth and the military government.
One of them, the People's Network for Reform, said it would back Prayuth as prime minister again.
"Our group will support Prime Minister Prayuth as the sole candidate," Thanapat Sukkasem, one of its leaders, told Reuters.
The Thai Siwilai political group also said it hoped to carry on the work of the junta, which is formally known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).
"We want to be the new engine to carry on its work," said its leader, Mongkolkit Suksintharanom, adding that if no other candidate seemed qualified then it would back Prayuth.
But not all were supportive of the military government.
Pro-democracy activist Worawut Butrmatr said he was looking to form a new party.
"I think we can only achieve so much from activism, so we must also play all the political game," Worawut told Reuters.
A parliamentary change to an election law last month could push back the November date, a prospect that has fanned discontent among some groups, which urge a return to civilian rule.
Registering new parties will not be easy, the election panel said, as new laws make it tougher for new parties to qualify.
"Out of these 114 groups, I am not sure how many new political parties we will actually see," said Jurungvith Phumma, acting secretary-general of Thailand's Election Commission.
(Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)