Govt Says Elections on Course, Politico Cries ‘Farce’

Hundreds gathered at Bangkok's Democracy Monument on the second anniversary of military rule on May 22, 2016.

BANGKOK — General elections should take place by the end of 2018, a spokesman for those who wrote the new constitution said Friday.

Speaking at a forum that saw politicos from the two largest parties sit down alongside government representatives at Chulalongkorn University, Norachit Sinhaseni of the Constitution Drafting Commission sought to dispel skepticism that a poll will be held.

Those assurances did not appear to convince the politicians seated at the table, such as former Pheu Thai MP Chaturon Chaisang and senior Democrat Party member Kasit Piromya, who remained unsure of the time frame and described the regime’s commitment to restoring democracy as a “farce.”

“[The] timeline has changed many times already,” said Chaturon, noting that Norachit’s comments made it clear there remained room for postponement. “So we’re not sure that elections will be held as scheduled.”

Either way, they said the new constitution ensures the junta will dominate politics for as long as eight years after an election is held.

Kasit said the whole thing reflected a “top-down” approach designed to impose the military’s conservative will upon society and politics.

“[There will be] more and more concentration of power in Bangkok, and not the decentralization that we hoped for. The military junta looks for stability. Stability is the name of the game,” Kasit told the audience. “There’s not much room for us to play.”

Speaking for the government, Norachit telegraphed positivity, saying that the legal framework that needed to be in place before the election could be held was ahead of schedule.

There are several laws that need to be passed to move forward. The first, pertaining to the Election Commission, was approved by the rubber-stamp legislature a week ago. Other legislation regulating political parties was approved Thursday, as were those pertaining to the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The work of drafting those and 10 other laws must be completed in December, or 240 days after the constitution was signed into effect by the king on April 6. Then the king would have 90 days to consider the laws, and an election must be held within 150 days after the palace signs off on them.

That would make elections possible in August 2018 at the earliest.

The discussion on election prospects came at a public forum organized by the Chulalongkorn’s Institute of Security and International Studies along with the Washington-based National Democratic Institute and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation.

Chaturon of Pheu Thai, which held a mandate from the electorate until it was ousted by the military in 2014, said he’s not confident a poll would take place next year. The veteran politician and former education minister, noted junta leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha’s recent comments that there would be no elections if unrest continues. Since April, three bomb attacks have hit the capital.

While he said the new constitution is undemocratic and detrimental to the country’s development, his political rival Kasit of the Democrat Party was possibly more pessimistic.

The promised process to restore democracy, he said, “is only a farce.”

Kasit said he fears enduring military rule will leave a lasting mark.

“I feel fearful of what will happen to Thailand. We will become a sort of confused child because no one can act with their own intellectual capacity, because everything is already imposed.”

Chaturon said the new charter shifts power from the people to the elite and bodies with no accountability with voters.

On Thursday, the National Legislative Assembly voted 109-95 to set minimum funding levels for political parties that would discourage the creation of new parties.

“Political parties will be weakened and their role will be limited. It will be difficult for small parties to survive and hard for new party to get started.”