By KAS CHANWANPEN
THE DEPUTY premier in charge of the government’s legal affairs said yesterday that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha had not signed any treaty committing him to hold the next election in November this year.
Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam’s comments came as the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) debated the controversial move to delay by three months the enforcement of the MP election law, which potentially could delay the election.
During several hours of debate, most NLA members agreed that a 90-day postponement was in keeping with the current circumstances. Some lawmakers suggested a longer period of postponement while others opposed any delay.
Wissanu yesterday said Prayut had “just made a remark” when speaking about the tentative election schedule during his visit to the United States in October last year. “No treaty was signed. If he had to sign any agreement, the prime minister would have needed approval from the Cabinet.
And he may have to inform the National Legislative Assembly, too,” he added.
The deputy PM was speaking at Government House during his meeting with a large group of editors, columnists and reporters. He said “unforeseen factors” like the 90-day delay in the election law’s enforcement certainly would affect the original “road map” under which the next election was tentatively scheduled for November. But he did not think a delay could be viewed as “breaking a promise”. The deputy PM said foreign countries should understand that logic “unless they pretend not to get it”.
Earlier, the US and the European Union separately called on the Thai government to comply with the road map and the November schedule promised by Prayut. Legislators yesterday spent many hours discussing the postponement of the election law’s enforcement.
Some NLA members proposed a postponement of 120 or 280 days despite criticism that they were helping the junta stall the election. The issue was part of the stipulation in the MPs election bill, which was in the Assembly for the second and third readings. The deliberations started at 9.30am, but the NLA had not started voting on the second reading as of press time.
The deadline for passage of the law is today, 60 days after the bill was submitted by charter drafters. The majority of the law-vetting committee insisted that without an enforcement delay, political parties would have difficulty making arrangements in time.
There were several arrangements that political parties had to make to ensure their eligibility to run in the elections, the legislators argued. For instance, they had to hold primary elections and handle member registrations as required by law, they said.
Seree Suwanpanon, a member of the committee, reiterated there were many things political parties had to get done before the election. The amendment to give them 90 extra days was well considered and aimed at helping the parties, he said. “There wouldn’t be enough time if we stuck to the previous stipulation. Parties wouldn’t be able to field candidates and then they would just blame us for having neglected this,” Seree said.
He also insisted the enforcement delay had not been ordered by the junta, calling it “a rational choice”. Some legislators, such as Taweesak Sukawatin, proposed that enforcement of the law be delayed for 120 days. That would ensure not only the political parties but also Election Commission would have time to prepare for the poll, he said. The EC might face new challenges such as online campaigning, he said, adding that 120 days would be better as it would not be too tight, reducing the pressure.
Meanwhile, a minority of the vetting committee – mainly from the Constitution Drafting Commission (CDC) – stuck to their view that the immediate enforcement of the election law would still give political parties enough time. CDC member Prapan Naigovit said the CDC considered 150 days provided for all sectors, as stipulated in the Constitution, was already flexible and sufficient for everyone to get ready for the national poll. Previous charters provided only 90 days, he added.
Aside from the controversial delay in the enforcement, the NLA meeting yesterday also spent considerable time debating whether to ban people failing to exercise their voting rights from working in some areas in the government sector such as in Parliament. Some said the punishment would encourage voters to turn up while others viewed it as an infringement of rights. Some legislators argued that “no” vote could be a form of political expression, too.
They should not be punished for such an action, they said. Another heated debate surrounded the stipulation on whether to allow recreation activities as part of the election campaign. One side said it could lead to vote buying and corruption, while the other pointed out that it was an incentive to draw people to participate in politics.
Meanwhile, Democrat Party deputy leader Ong-art Klampaiboon said there was a hidden agenda behind the legislators’ postponement of the MPs election law’s enforcement. He added that the move by the committee vetting the bill was “unusual”. “People disagree with the postponement because they suspect a hidden agenda,” the veteran politician said, adding that “this cunning plot” was not necessary, as the new law could be allowed to take effect normally.