CHIANG RAI, Thailand (Reuters) - Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha said on Tuesday a ban on political activity will be lifted by December in anticipation of a general election next year.
The military government has imposed a strict ban on all political activity since a 2014 military coup, citing the need for peace and order after months of street protests against a civilian government of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
Opponents of military rule say the ban, backed up by legal action against those who violate it, has stifled dissent.
Last month, the government relaxed some restrictions, allowing political parties to resume organizing ahead of a general election due by May next year but still maintain a ban on public gathering of more than five people and political campaigning.
"On the lifting of the ban on political activities, we will consider it sometime at the end of November or early December depending on suitability," Prayut told reporters after a meeting of his cabinet was held in the northern town of Chiang Rai.
The ban forbids all political activity including the holding of gatherings and campaigning.
The junta has said the ban on political activity has been necessary to preserve stability after more than a decade of at times violent rivalry between supporters of ousted premiers Thaksin Shinawatra, and his sister, Yingluck, and the Bangkok-based royalist establishment.
Political parties are gearing up for next year's general election, being held under a military-drafted constitution that critics say will prolong military influence over civilian politics.
Last month, Prayut said he was interested in having a political role after the general election, fuelling speculation he aims to stay on as prime minister.
Four of his cabinet ministers have launched a political party that could back Prayut.
On Sunday, Thaksin's old Puea Thai Party chose new leaders to take it into the election.
An election date has not been set but senior government official have said that it would likely be on Feb. 24.
(Reporting by Pracha Harirakspitak and Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by Robert Birsel)