By Aukkarapon Niyomyat and Pracha Hariraksapitak
BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand will hold a general election by May 5 next year, a deputy prime minister said on Monday, signalling the possibility of another delay of a vote that had tentatively been set for February.
The military has been running Thailand since a May 2014 coup, when it ousted the civilian government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, citing the need to end street protests, and banned political activity in the name of peace and order.
It has promised to hold a general election but has repeatedly pushed back the date, most recently suggesting polls would be held by February 2019.
But Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, citing a time frame determined by constitutional stipulations and legislative steps, told reporters various dates were possible from Feb. 24, with the latest being May 5.
Wissanu also said the junta would ease a ban on political activity by parties between September and December this year, allowing them to undertake administrative tasks in preparation for the election.
But bans on public gatherings of more than five people and political campaigning would remain in place during that period, Wissanu said.
"What they can do is hold party meetings without permission. The meetings would enable them to decide on party regulations, find party members, discuss with the election commission the division of constituencies and determine party candidates," he said.
Representatives of 73 political parties attended a meeting with military government officials on Monday and some said they were happy with the partial lifting of the ban on political activity.
But Watana Muangsook, a member of the Pheu Thai party, whose government was ousted in 2014, said the junta should lift the ban completely. The party did not send representatives to the meeting.
Despite the ban on political activity, several small protests to push for elections have taken place in recent months in different parts of the country.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said last week the general election would not take place before King Maha Vajiralongkorn's coronation, for which no date has yet been set.
Po-democracy activist Rangsiman Rome told Reuters he was not surprised by the junta's signalling of another possible delay.
"It's still not certain that it will really happen between Feb. 24 and May 5," he said.
(Additional reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat, Panu Wongcha-um, Panarat Thepgumpanat; Writing by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Robert Birsel)