Parties call on Thai junta for swift return to democracy

BANGKOK - Thai political parties called on the ruling junta for a swift return to democracy on Tuesday during military-led reconciliation talks aimed at mending political divisions ahead of elections next year.

The junta has billed the talks as proof that it is serious about a return to democracy, though some parties and activists have questioned how the military can be neutral given its decades of political involvement.

The government announced last week that elections it had promised for this year would be postponed until 2018.

Three parties met a junta-led committee on the first day of reconciliation talks, which are expected to involve some 70 political parties and to last for three months. "I told them we can make reconciliation happen by a swift return to democratic rule," Chingchai Mongkoltham, leader of the New Aspiration Party, told Reuters.

Thanaporn Sriyakul, leader of the Commoner Party of Thailand, said he was not convinced the talks would lead to any fruitful outcome. None of Thailand's biggest parties took part in the first day of talks.

Thailand's political divide is broadly between the traditionalist elite, centred on middle-class Bangkok, and the less prosperous parts of the country, which largely backed populist governments of former premiers Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister, Yingluck. They were overthrown in coups in 2006 and 2014 coups.

Defence minister Prawit Wongsuwan said political reconciliation does not involve granting amnesty to those facing prosecution.

Thaksin Shinawatra has lived abroad since 2008 to escape corruption charges. His sister is on trial over a rice subsidy scheme that cost Thailand billions of dollars during her time in office. She denies wrongdoing.