Military Leaders Further Centralise Power By Suspending Local Elections

A Redshirt candidate makes speech during the election of Udon Thani's Provincial Administrative Organisations, 14 May 2012

BANGKOK — Thailand’s military regime has suspended local elections and announced plans to replace elected officials with bureaucrats in a move that further centralises its power over the country's provinces.

In a televised announcement issued on Tuesday night, the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) said members of local administrations in Bangkok and other provinces will be replaced by selected officials after the terms of the current officials expire. According to the order, the changes will only affect local administrative agencies where half of their members' terms are set to expire by the end of the year.

Two hundred and fifty-five local administrative agencies will be effected by the new ruling, Election Commission (EC) officials say.  

The NCPO did not say how long local elections will be suspended for. According to the junta’s roadmap, a national election will not be held until late next year and only if the "national reconciliation" process is deemed complete.

The new local officials will be appointed by the EC and two-thirds of them are required to be current or former bureaucrats with the "senior" rank of C-8. According to the order, the selection process "should also consider the behaviour, morality, honesty, and political neutrality of the selected individuals."

Although all provincial governors in Thailand are already appointed by the central government in Bangkok rather than elected locally, citizens normally elect the members of their Provincial Administrative Organisations and Subdistrict Administrative Organisations. Bangkok's district councilors are also elected. 

The announcement effectively abolished the last remaining resemblance of democratic institutions in Thailand, as the NCPO already deposed the elected government on 22 May and liquidated the Senate and the 2007 Constitution shortly thereafter. 

Election Commissioner Somchai Srisutthiyakorn welcomed the new ruling, calling it a "temporary solution" for the country. He also said the NCPO is ensuring that only "able" bureaucrats are appointed to oversee the country's local administrations. 

"It took a long time for these bureaucrats to reach where they are right now," Mr. Somchai said. 

Nevertheless, Mr. Somchai admitted that handing administrative power to bureaucrats may come with a price: a "bureaucratic mentality," in which officials are wedded to existing rules and formats, may lead the new administrators to lose touch with the citizens in their areas. Veteran politicians, on the other hand, are sometimes better at identifying with constituents and understanding their needs, Mr. Somchai said.

The NCPO’s announcement has alarmed those concerned to see the unraveling of Thailand's decentralised provincial system, which has been steadily gaining ground for two decades.

The replacement of elected politicians with full-time bureaucrats has also raised concerns that the NCPO may bring back the so-called "Bureaucratic State” of the 1980s in which a weak parliament was dominated by a heavy presence of bureaucratic and military rule.

According to sources inside the EC, the NCPO is bent on preventing the former ruling Pheu Thai Party from regaining its influence in the countryside; Pheu Thai Party and its predecessor, Thai Rak Thai Party, have garnered widespread support in the rural northern and northeastern Thailand and won every national election since 2001.

"When it's time to organise a national and provincial election, it will be very difficult for the big old party to return to power," a source said, referring to the Pheu Thai Party. 

 

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