By The Nation
He led a junta group that pushed through a Constitution that placed most of the blame for the country’s political woes on politicians. But now, Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha is urging them to accept new ground rules that impose restrictions making it almost impossible for many parties to operate.
A recent Suan Dusit Poll indicated that more than a third of the people surveyed were concerned with when and whether an election would take place. And yet, unnecessary restrictions are still in place, such as prohibiting political parties from meeting or even accepting new members.
National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) order No 53/2017 needs to be amended to allow political parties to accept new members. Without revision, the order could cause problems at the next election, particularly regarding parties fielding their candidates.
As it stands, the new electoral law not only sets minimum numbers of party members but requires political parties to hold primary elections among their members in each of the 350 constituencies to select their election candidates. Many parties currently do not meet that requirement – thanks to the ongoing restraint on political activities that is entirely unnecessary.
But political parties should also understand that they have other options. Imagine what would happen to the NCPO’s standing in the eyes of the public if the parties decide collectively to boycott the upcoming general election.
The NCPO would need nerves of steel to tell the public that they have no choice but to stay in power longer – which is something they have been doing (going back on their word about election dates) for the past four years.
The NCPO needs to understand that the participation of these political parties legitimises the ground rules and the junta-drafted Constitution. Needless to say, it is far from perfect and, already, parties out there are committed to
scraping or revising it to reflect
the desire of the people.
Instead of responding to public needs and desires, Prayut has been touring the country with his Cabinet under the guise of checking up on development projects. The stages that were set for him in these locations were identical to political rallies.
Last month in Buri Ram, for example, Prayut was enthusiastically welcomed by more than 30,000 locals just a day before his Cabinet approved a costly irrigation project. In Nakhon Sawan, Prayut met with more than a dozen local former MPs and senators based in lower Northern and upper Central.
“I have only come to follow up on development projects, not to campaign for politics as people with ill intentions claim,” the premier told the locals – sounding very much like US President Donald Trump.
Regardless of the official explanation, observers agree that Prayut is seen as testing the waters to see if he has a political life after the NCPO returns its mandate to the people.
At a recent stop, Prayut urged the public in Pichit to vote for people who they trust. “If you get the same old faces and they can’t fix anything, think about that for yourselves,” he said.
Perhaps he needs to reflect on what he said. In Thailand’s political theatre, a four-year show is a long time. In short, he and his government have become the old faces and it’s time for them to move on.
The NCPO needs to stop acting like little children and allow political activities to take their own course. Specifically, they need to stop intimidating political parties, like asking the Election Commission to look into whether a political party vowing to tear up the Constitution once in power was lawful.
At one general assembly held at the Thammasat University, plainclothes security officers were taking photographs of key participants who were to be harassed later.
It’s time to end this childish behaviour and move on.