BANGKOK — Thailand must have a general election 19 months from now, or late next year, according to the timeframe set forth in the newly enacted constitution. Yet as of Friday, no official would confirm that was the case.
In a televised speech Thursday night, junta chairman Prayuth Chan-ocha said he could not pinpoint any date for the next election, which would the first in four years. Since seizing power from an elected government in 2014, the junta has promised and postponed a poll several times.
“The government cannot specify clearly what the day of the election will be held,” Gen. Prayuth said. “No one can give any specific date and time. They can only speculate it will be this day or that day.”
When a reporter asked interim parliament chairman Pornpetch Wichitcholchai whether he can guarantee that an election will be held in 2018, he was noncommittal.
“You must ask the election commission,” Pornpetch said Friday. “It’s not my job to organize elections.”
Opposition politician and junta critic Watana Muangsook said he’s concerned that the military government may continue to wield its power under Article 44. Nevertheless, he said his party, Pheu Thai, is ready to contest in the poll.
“The Pheu Thai Party is only afraid of refusal to adhere to the rules, use of power during election period and refusal to accept election results,” Watana told Thai Rath website.
Under the latest constitution – Thailand’s 20th – the government must organize a poll within 19 months after the charter is enacted by the king.
The stages are divided as follows: A parliamentary committee has up to eight months to draft all 10 organic laws, including legislation on election and political parties, which will then be sent for a review by the interim parliament, the National Legislative Assembly, for approval within two months.
If the assembly wishes to alter the content of these laws, its members have a month to do so.
Once all 10 organic laws are approved by the parliament, they must be submitted to His Majesty the King within a month for royal endorsement, and the monarch has up to three months to deliberate over the laws before he signs them.
After the organic laws on elections and political parties are enacted by the King, the government has a maximum of five months to prepare for a new election. All of these timeframes point to an election by October or November 2018 at the latest.
In his speech Prayuth said these procedures were set even before the charter referendum in August and the government had not done any change to them.
“They weren’t newly set today,” the general said. “Everyone knew this right from the referendum. They were never changed.”
Until the new government takes power, the current junta, along with its rubber stamp parliament and absolute power under Article 44 of its previous interim charter, are here to stay.
Thailand’s last election was held in early 2014 under the Pheu Thai-led government, though it was boycotted by the rival Democrat Party, and anti-government protesters blocked some of the polling stations. The constitutional court later nullified the election result on the grounds voting did not take place throughout the kingdom on the same day.
By the time Thailand has another election, Prayuth will have become the first prime minister since the Cold War to break the four-year term limit. He was appointed as a premier by his own parliament in September 2014.