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Elections are finally here – on March 24

Jan 23. 2019
Election Commissioner Ittiporn Boonpracong is surrounded by reporters yesterday after announcing March 24 as the date for the general election.
Election Commissioner Ittiporn Boonpracong is surrounded by reporters yesterday after announcing March 24 as the date for the general election.
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EC picks ‘most appropriate’ date; no word on results before May 9.

THE ELECTION Commission (EC) yesterday finally announced that the long-awaited election will be held on March 24, but did not indicate if the official results will be declared before May 9, raising doubts of legal compliance with the timeframe set by the Constitution. 

Hours after the Royal Decree on the general election was published in the Royal Gazette yesterday, chief Election Commissioner Ittiporn Boonpracong called a meeting to decide on the polling date, even though by law the EC has five days to make the decision. 

The election date has been a much-discussed topic since the junta-backed government handed the “hot potato” to the EC. Now, it is the EC’s responsibility to ensure the polls do not overlap with the coronation of the monarch, which will be held from May 4 to 6, and the many ceremonies before and after the event. However, most commissioners decided on March 24 as the date, as they had taken into account other poll-related activities, Ittiporn said.

“This is the most appropriate date because it allows us to carry out all the activities in time,” Ittiporn said. “These activities include the MP application, voting from abroad, as well as the electoral campaign.”

The commission considered other date options, including March 10 that had been floated earlier, but concluded that it would leave them with too little time for pre-election procedures, he said. 

Allowing 52 days for parties to carry out their electoral campaigns was one factor that they had taken into consideration. They finally decided on March 24 as the best option, Ittiporn said.

Debate continued, however, over whether the election results should be finalised by May 9 – the final day of the 150-day timeframe set by the Constitution after the MP election law comes into effect.

Ittiporn declined to confirm whether the commission could be able to complete the whole process and avoid the risk of unconstitutional polling, which could lead to an annulment of the election. 

At the moment, the EC would focus on pre-election activities, Ittiporn said. The agency would discuss these issues later, including whether to submit the matter for an opinion from the Constitutional Court, he added. After the Royal Decree yesterday, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement asking people to help keep peace and order throughout the election process as well as the coronation ceremony and avoid any conflict that would lead to a political crisis as in the past.

The government, which took power after the 2014 coup, also encouraged voters to exercise their rights. Junta leader and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday tweeted in his personal account: “The Royal Decree is already published. I ask that everyone respect and go toward the #election2019 with peace, for peace in the country.”

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam yesterday said that though the Royal Decree had already been issued, the government maintained its full authority.

Unlike previous charters that allowed only an acting government to run the country before the election, this Constitution allowed the current government full authority until the next government takes office, Wissanu said. But the government will exercise its power in an appropriate manner, he said. 

Wissanu, who is in charge of the government’s legal affairs, also said that the electoral campaign could be kicked off now that the Royal Decree had already taken effect. 

He warned parties and politicians to be cautious about their budget as well as the campaign. They would be watched closely by the EC, he added. 

Four ministers stay on

In a related development, the four ministers who had joined the pro-junta Phalang Pracharat remained in office even though the Royal Decree had been issued.

PM’s Office Minister Kobsak Pootrakool, who is one of the four members of the party, said yesterday that they had already discussed the matter. But he refused to say when they would give up their posts, which has exposed them to criticism as they could abuse their power to gain advantage over others contesting the elections.

Meanwhile, anti-election groups turned up yesterday outside the EC’s office and voiced their opposition to the announcement of the polling date. They said the election should be delayed until the coronation ceremony was over.

However, the Association of Thai Securities Companies chairperson Pattera Dilokrungthirapop said that the announcement is a clear signal and would have a positive impact on Thailand’s capital markets and lure more foreign investment. It will also boost the confidence of local investors.

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