By KAS CHANWANPEN
DESPITE mounting criticism and widespread calls to avoid a further delay of the election, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday remained defiant and refused to say whether the poll would be put off, while claiming the international community understood the situation.
Thailand is the Asean chair this year and is required to host two summits of regional leaders and several other meetings at the ministerial and senior official levels.
Asean diplomats have expressed their worries that the political uncertainty might jeopardise Thailand’s leadership of the regional bloc. The first Asean ministerial meeting will take place in the middle of next week in Chiang Mai.
The much-anticipated Royal Decree on the election, which will allow the Election Commission to fix the poll date, has yet to be issued and Prayut yesterday said he did not know when it would be published in the Royal Gazette.
“It will be when it will be,” Prayut told reporters yesterday after the weekly Cabinet meeting. “I haven’t said anything about a delay or no delay.”
Speaking of the upcoming royal coronation, which is said to be the reason for the proposed delay in the election, Prayut said that international friends all wanted to participate in the event.
“All the countries I have visited, they understand. So, what do you want from me?” he said, apparently irritated by the criticism and media reports over the possibility of the national poll being postponed.
Although in the past couple months the regime had appeared firm about the election and even spoke of holding it on February 24, its recent moves suggest that the process might be put off by a month, to March 24, due to the coronation ceremony of the King in May. Confusion over legal issues have complicated the fixing of the election date. None of the concerned authorities had any answers to the public’s demand for an election.
Election Commission (EC) president Ittiporn Boonpracong yesterday rejected reports that the agency preferred March 10 as the day for the casting of ballots. Only after the Royal Decree on the election is published can the EC determine the poll date, he said.
“We at the EC are well aware of our responsibility. We have to follow the law and give some clarity to the public,” Ittiporn said. “But I don’t want to give out any unconfirmed information.”
Earlier, it was said that the EC wanted March 10 to be the polling day to ensure that they could finalise the results within 150 days of the electoral laws coming into effect.
The Constitution requires that the election process be completed within the 150-day period.
But questions arose if the 150-day period covered only the casting of ballots or also the announcement of the election results. There are fears that confusion on this score could lead to the annulment of the election as unconstitutional.
Ittiporn yesterday said that the agency was now focused on holding the election within 150 days after the electoral laws come into effect and announcing the results 60 days after the poll.
Despite the debate on the 150-period, Ittiporn said the agency had yet to consider bringing the question to the Constitutional Court.
In a related development, at least 150 pro-poll protesters yesterday gathered around the Ratchaprasong intersection in the heart of Bangkok to show their opposition to any delay of the election.
They demanded that the junta be frank about the publication of the Royal Decree and stop intervening in the electoral process, which is the responsibility of the EC.
While the government claims the overlapping of the royal coronation ceremony with the election could make the holding of an election in February difficult, the group said the government should be more efficient in its work to ensure that both the coronation and the election could go on according to the planned schedule.