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Thailand's biggest political party selects new leaders ahead of poll

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By Reuters

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Hundreds of politicians from Thailand’s Puea Thai Party met on Sunday at the party’s headquarter in Bangkok to select new leadership ahead of a general election expected to take place next year.

Political activities in Thailand were banned by the junta after the military ousted a Puea Thai-led government under former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra in May 2014.

Last month, the junta partially lifted the ban to allow political parties prepare for the poll which it said will take place sometime from February through May.

The Puea Thai assembly voted in former deputy prime minister Viroj Pao-in, 84, as party leader and veteran politician Phumtham Vechayaychai, 64, as secretary-general.

Party core member Sudarat Keyuraphan, 57, was also voted in as a chairperson for the party’s executive committee and another committee that will oversee the selection of party candidates for the election.

“What I have to do now is to gather all the capable people in the party and bring out their best to work for the people,” Sudarat told reporters at the assembly.

“We will now go and talk to the people and consult them to formulate our party’s policies,” Sudarat said.

Newly elected party executives said it was too soon for the party to nominate its candidate to contest for prime minister and instead will focus on working out the party’s policies first.

For more than a decade Thailand has been divided between populist political forces – now led by the Puea Thai Party backed by former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra who was toppled in a 2006 coup – and the royalist and military establishment.

Thaksin’s sister Yingluk swept to power in an election in 2011, before being ousted in another coup in 2014.

“In the past there has been efforts to destroy our party in various ways but because of the support from the people we believe the party can overcome,” Phumtham, the party’s secretary-general, told the media at the party’s general assembly.

“Now we are ready to move towards the election,” he said.

(This story has been refiled to correct typo in the second paragraph.)

(Reporting by Aukkarapon Niyomyat and Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by Christopher Cushing)