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PM shrugs off parties’ fears over Article 44


PRIME MINISTER General Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday told politicians they should not worry about losing party members following his Article 44 order to extend the deadline for some political party activities.
He said if parties maintained their ideologies, their members would still support them.
In his capacity as junta chief, Prayut last Friday exercised his absolute power to issue an order extending some deadlines specified in the Political Party Act. The law, which took effect in early October, was not implemented because the junta had not lifted its ban on political activities. 
The latest order had been seen by politicians as an attempt to delay the election and reset existing party membership lists as it opened the way for members to defect from their current parties in favour of new parties that will be established next year. 
But Prayut said politicians should look at the details of the order, not just its weaknesses and strengths. 
“You [politicians] should take a break. Don’t worry or put pressure [on me]. I need to maintain peace and order in the country. The public, too, should understand me,” he said after a mobile Cabinet meeting in Sukhothai province. Prayut insisted the order had been issued to be fair to both old and new parties to update their party memberships.
“When you manage to get at least 500 members to pay party membership fees within 180 days after April 1 next year [as stipulated in the order], you can seek more members, up to 1 million,” he said. 
Politicians have said the order allows them too short period of time to follow its stipulations and also expressed concern that they could lose many of their members.
The order gives current party members only one month to decide whether they will stay with their current party or review their political allegiance. People wishing to maintain their party memberships must submit letters to confirm that choice to party leaders and pay membership fees between April 1 and April 30 next year, or they will lose their status. 
Despite the rescheduling of the deadline, Prayut said it would not affect the road map to the next election, which he had earlier set for next November.
Some of the harshest criticism has come from Democrat Party leader and former prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, who has called on junta leaders to be more courageous and admit to the public that they wanted to delay the election.
“I won’t quarrel with him [Abhisit]. The public should listen [to both sides]. Those who want to enter politics should talk about the national strategy too. I have no disputes with anyone. I just want to make a strategy for the people,” Prayut said. 

Obstacles to election
However, possible obstacles to holding an election next November have been raised by Constitution Drafting Commission (CDC) adviser Jade Donavanik.
First, Jade said he saw problems connected with the primary voting system for selecting party candidates, which is stipulated in the recently passed Political Party Act.
The 2017 charter stipulates that the next election must be held within 150 days after the four essential organic laws are promulgated.
The four laws concern political parties, the Election Commission, the election of MPs and the origins of the Senate. The last two are being considered by the National Legislative Assembly.
Jade said primary voting might not be possible because the parties could not comply with the stipulations in time. To bypass the primary system, however, would mean another use of the absolute power available to Prayut under Article 44, he added.
Another issue is whether the MPs election bill will have its promulgation period extended from three to six months resulting from the extended deadlines for parties.
The National Council for Peace and Order would have to meet with the Election Commission, the National Legislative Assembly President, the CDC, and political parties and other groups for consultations first, Jade added.

Published : December 26, 2017