BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand does not need international observers to monitor next year's general elections, the foreign minister said on Tuesday, despite criticism from pro-democracy activists that the junta has restricted fundamental civil rights.
The government has promised to hold elections between February and May after repeated delays, a contest between supporters of the military and royalist establishment and the populist political forces now led by the Puea Thai Party that was ousted by the military in a 2014 coup.
Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai said past elections in the Southeast Asian country have been credible.
"To have others observing means the country is having a problem," he told reporters.
The last time Thailand held a successful election was in 2011 when the Yingluck Shinawatra and her Puea Thai Party won by a landslide.
In February 2014, an election was disrupted by massive street protests that saw voting blocked in a fifth of the country's constituencies and eventually led to the May 2014 coup.
Human Rights Watch said foreign observers should be allowed to monitor the 2019 vote and called on the government to lift the ban on political activities to ensure the election is free and fair.
"As the countdown for an election has begun, the Thai military government seems to care about seeking hand-shake and photo opportunities at major international events, but refuses to allow foreign allies to come and witness what is going on the country where the environment for a free and fair election does not exist," Sunai Phasuk, senior Thailand researcher at Human Rights Watch, told Reuters.
The military government has recently relaxed some political restrictions by allowing political parties to organise but a ban on campaigning and gatherings of more than five people remains in place at least until December.
An election date has not been set but senior government officials have said that it would likely be on Feb. 24.
(Reporting by Pracha Harirakspitak, Panarat Thepgumpanat, and Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor and Nick Macfie)