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Thailand's Junta Eases Politics Ban in Step Toward Polls

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Thailand has taken another step toward holding elections next year by easing some restrictions on political activities to allow parties to conduct basic functions, but they are still barred from campaigning.

A special order issued by the prime minister, which became law Friday following its publication in the Royal Gazette, allows political parties to gather funds to operate and, with the ruling junta’s permission, recruit party members and choose new leaders.

The order comes two days after enactment of laws covering the selection of members of Parliament and senators that mandate that a general election be held between February and May next year. The ruling junta has previously postponed several promised election deadlines.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said Thursday that elections are tentatively scheduled for Feb. 24, repeating previous assertions by other senior officials.

The military banned virtually all formal political party activities after it took over from an elected government in a May 2014 coup.

Friday’s order, issued under an emergency law the military enacted after seizing power, said restrictions are still necessary to make sure the country, which it says is now “relatively stable,” is on track to achieve the government’s reform goals.

Critics have said that a new constitution and other laws enacted under military rule weaken democratic structures with the intention of limiting the power of elected politicians and keeping it in the hands of traditional Thai powerholders, including the judiciary and the military. For example, all senators in the next government will be appointed by the ruling junta, apart from six senatorial positions which automatically go to army and police chiefs.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha is expected to run in the polls, or at least make himself available for the next parliament to reappoint him prime minister.

Friday’s six-page order allows parties to establish budgets and gather funds from their members. It also allows parties to make rule changes, recruit new members, and choose leaders on the condition that the junta is informed at least five days in advance.

Thawatchai Terdpaothai, a member of the Election Commission, said Friday that it will hold a meeting with all political parties on Sept. 28 to explain the regulations and to hear any concerns the parties may have.

Abhisit Vejjajiva, the leader of the Democrat Party, the country’s oldest, announced Friday on the online messaging platform LINE that his party will hold a meeting of senior members on Monday to plan for a broader Sept. 24 meeting at which it will adjust its rules to meet the new election regulations and organize the registration of new members.

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The Latest In Politics: Kavanaugh, Rosenstein

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Women And Politics: What's Changed Since Anita Hill

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Beer, sausages and politics: German nationalism threatens Oktoberfest

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Despite its political neutrality and impression of inconsequential revelry, in recent decades, the festival has become a stage on which politicians can show off their common touch.
Parading in dirndls, chewing pretzels and singing folk songs, these political elites will celebrate a “Germanness” so seemingly playful that it is acceptable in a country that, since the Second World War, has shied away from patriotism.
Wurstmarkt -- world's largest wine festival
And this weekend, the images will seem more timely than ever. The ruling conservative party in Bavaria looks likely to lose thousands of votes in the state election next month to the far-right, populist Alternative for Germany (AfD), which campaigns against immigration, Islam and multiculturalism.
It also calls on ethnic Germans to have more children to prevent the eradication of the German people. “The preservation of one’s own national people is a priority in politics and for every government,” the party said in its manifesto for last year’s federal election. Roughly one in eight Germans voted for the AfD in that election, many of them angry about the arrival of a million refugees and migrants in 2015.
Polls predict that the Christian Social Union — a conservative party that has mostly ruled Bavaria since the 1940s and is moving rapidly to the right on immigration in a bid to head off the AfD — might lose its absolute majority.
But using Oktoberfest for political advantage is nothing new.
Bavaria's State Premier Guenther Beckstein toasts with Angela Merkel during the Berlin version "Oktoberfest" in 2008Bavaria's State Premier Guenther Beckstein toasts with Angela Merkel during the Berlin version "Oktoberfest" in 2008
The festival has a long and unfortunate history of being used in this way. It first took place in 1810, following the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig and Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. It was seen by some as an attempt by the nobility to win favor among normal Germans.
Then, in the 1930s, the Nazis renamed it the “Great German folk festival,” a celebration of Aryan identity.
After the war, the festival became a politics-free space. Today, politicians of all ideological backgrounds make public appearances.
From Angela Merkel to rebel left-wing politicians such as Claudia Roth, who recently paraded her dirndl there, mainstream politicians have their pictures taken holding enormous glasses of beer, or steins.
It is remarkable that all these politicians have long felt comfortable promoting a “festival that emphasizes its German origin with strength and power in every aspect,” as the official website claims.
Germany approves arms sales to Saudi Arabia, breaking coalition promiseGermany approves arms sales to Saudi Arabia, breaking coalition promise
But even this idea of Germanness lacks a certain authenticity. The kinds of dirndls and lederhosen worn at the festival have little to do with German history. Dirndels and lederhosen were not even worn in Bavaria when the festival first took place.
And it could very well be the case that this gimicky, artificial environment — complete with fancy dress and beer — provides the perfect cover for a politician to roar German songs without looking nationalist.
And it’s this roaring that might soothe some German voters that long for a uniform homeland — without otherness.
And while German politics is currently divisive and the atmosphere in Bavaria is febrile, it’s hard to see this sentiment winning a majority for any party. But as more or the German mainstream apes the policies of far-right nationalists simply to stop their votes from bleeding away, it’s worth asking the question: where could this end?

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