By THE NATION
PRIME MINISTER General Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday linked the coronation with the date for the next election, saying the junta needed to prepare for the important royal ceremony before calling the long-awaited poll.
While it is has been widely accepted that the general election would take place no sooner than February next year, the date for the coronation has not been announced.
The prime minister broke with tradition in linking the royal ceremony with a political event.
Prayut’s surprise remark came amid growing pressure on the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to call an election after several delays caused by legislative complications.
After the Cabinet meeting yesterday, Prayut brought up the coronation out of the blue.
“Everyone must not forget about the most important thing. Today, the NCPO gives importance to the preparation of the coronation. Every Thai must not forget. This is important,” he said.
“Don’t say I’m making an excuse. For this, I need the country to be peaceful and stable. It also impacts investments, too. The election will also go on according to democracy. I don’t think these go in contrast.”
His unprompted comments led reporters to ask if the election would be held before or after the coronation. He responded that the election would definitely take place after the coronation.
His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn ascended the throne on December 2016, but the date of his coronation has not yet determined.
Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said yesterday that the determination of the coronation day depended solely on royal judgement.
“I cannot talk about this [the coronation] since the Cabinet did not discuss the matter [yesterday]. I heard the prime minister talked about it. He might know, but I don’t know,” Wissanu told reporters.
The election has been anticipated since soon after the coup took place in 2014. Prayut initially said the election would take place the following year but the schedule has shifted thanks to a lengthy process of legislation and the writing of the Constitution.
Prayut has talked about the election almost every time he has met with foreign leaders. He told Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in early 2015 that the election would be held within a year. He told then chief of United Nations Ban Ki-moon in late 2015 that the poll in Thailand would take place in the middle of 2017. He said during his visit to Washington late last year that the election would be held in late 2018.
Human rights defenders and activists urged British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron – who Prayut is scheduled to meet today and next Monday respectively – to pressure the PM for a rapid transition to a civilian government.
The two European leaders might mention democratisation in Thailand but pressuring the junta chief may be difficult as the European Union softened its stance toward the military government late last year, resuming political contact at all levels with Thailand, diplomatic sources said.
The road map to democracy, according to the Constitution, says that the election must take place 150 days after the organic laws crucial for the vote come into effect. However, the bills have suffered several legislative hiccups such as committee revisions and a constitutional review. Consequently, the election has been delayed indefinitely.
The powers-that-be have reiterated that voting would be held in February next year. But critics have questioned that promise, given the current situation in which a ban on politics remains strictly in place and the organic bills on the Senate and MPs election are still pending royal endorsement.
The junta indicated it was preparing for the election as Prayut assigned his deputy Prawit Wongsuwan to call a meeting with political parties to clear the way for the poll. Wissanu said the meeting would take place soon.