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ANALYSIS: Junta keeps the country guessing about next election

Jan 13. 2019
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AFTER SEIZING power from an elected government in May 2014, the ruling junta led by General Prayut Chan-o-cha came up with a political “road map” promising a general election in February 2016.

The promised national vote never happened, and promises to hold elections five other times over the next three years also were broken.

Repeated postponements by the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) have left critics of the junta, as well as political parties, fast losing patience after years of waiting.

Critics and activists close to certain political groups have held protests against any postponement of the poll from February 24 – the latest promised date of election before yet another delay. A general election on February 24 became unlikely after the government pointed to the need for a delay in order to avoid it overlapping with the coronation ceremony of His Majesty the King scheduled for early May.

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said last week that the next election should be held on March 24 or March 31 so that results of the national vote could be announced in late May, after the coronation.

However, the Election Commission (EC) suggested that the next election should be held on March 10. The agency said it wanted the election results to be announced within 150 days after the organic law on MP elections went into effect on December 11.

Election commissioners said they did not want to take a risk, as the Constitution requires a general election “shall be held and completed” within 150 days from the date the relevant organic acts came into force.

In their view, the legal timeframe also covered the announcement of election results, although Wissanu, who is in charge of the government’s legal affairs, disputed such an interpretation. He said that holding an election and announcing the results had their separate legal deadlines.

A separate constitutional clause states that the EC “shall announce the result of the election expeditiously; the announcement shall be not later than 60 days from the date of election”.

There has been concern that if the EC announces the election result later than May 9 – after 150 days of the MP election law came into force – the Constitutional Court could be petitioned to void the election.

Although the EC mainly has the final say on setting the election date, the government has the power to get a decree calling a national vote promulgated in the Royal Gazette. And so far, no such decree has been issued.

The tug-of-war between the government and the EC about the election date, as well as the junta’s insistence on a postponement by another month from February 24, has led to suspicions of a conspiracy aimed at getting the next national vote annulled. The junta chief mentioned tentative election schedules during his overseas visits, possibly due to pressure from the international community. But the promised schedules never materialised. In February 2015, at a press conference in Tokyo following a meeting with his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe, Prayut said Thailand would hold an election by late that year or early the following year.

The scheduled election was postponed from February 2016 to September that year after the draft constitution required that a national referendum be held. There was another postponement after the National Reform Assembly voted down the draft charter written by a committee headed by Borwornsak Uwanno. 

At that time, Borwornsak, a law professor, said his draft was voted down because “they want to stay long”, which led to criticisms that the NCPO had plotted to cling on to power for as long as possible.

In September 2015, while attending the UN General Assembly in New York, Prayut told then UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon that he expected the election to be held in mid-2017.

However, the schedule was postponed from middle to late 2017 after a new constitution drafting committee headed by Meechai Ruchuphan added more time for writing organic laws and preparing for elections.

A delay in promulgating the new Constitution led to another postponement, until November 2018.

Then, the National Legislative Assembly set the organic law on MP elections to go into effect 90 days after its promulgation, a rare occurrence in Thai politics, forcing the national vote to be delayed until February 2019.

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