BANGKOK — Thailand’s Election Commission says it is prepared to conduct a referendum on whether junta chairman Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha should stay in power for two more years.
The proposal has backing from some members of the military government, but has not been formally endorsed.
Somchai Srisutthiyakorn, the Election Commissioner who oversees voting practices, made it clear that the EC is ready to cooperate if the measure is ultimately approved.
"If there is to be a referendum, there will be a joint meeting between the government and the EC about practical details, like the date, amount of time, and the government's budget for the EC's operations," said Somchai.
Somchai and other EC officials made headlines last year when they traveled to Scotland to observe its referendum on independence from the United Kingdom. The taxpayer-funded trip drew criticism back home, given Somchai and the EC's notorious reluctance to organise elections called by the former government toppled in the coup.
Asked whether the EC could conduct the referendum on Gen. Prayuth's extension in time for a second referendum on the junta’s new charter, Somchai replied, "If things proceed in accordance with the laws, of course, we can do it in time."
Supporters of the military junta, including 26 members of the junta-appointed National Reform Council, have been publicly urging Gen. Prayuth to extend his "road map" to democracy by two years in order to complete the reform process he launched after staging a coup in May 2014.
Last month, the 26 NRC members submitted a formal request calling for a national vote on the proposal.
Under the junta’s current schedule, an election is slated to be held in September 2016, given that the junta’s new charter passes a referendum. The constitutional referendum will likely take place in late 2015 or early 2016.
Thailand has been under military rule since Gen. Prayuth toppled an elected government on 22 May 2014. Gen. Prayuth was later chosen as Prime Minister by the military government he appointed.
Commenting on the issue yesterday, Gen. Prayuth said he would only stay on if the Thai people demand it.
"If it is the voice of the people, how can I object to that?" said Gen. Prayuth, who has kept a tight lid on freedom of expression and banned all political activities and public criticism for the past year.
According to Maj.Gen. Sansern Kaewkamnerd, a spokesperson for Gen. Prayuth, the junta chairman "never thinks about holding on to power."
"He only thinks about holding on to responsibility to the country," Maj.Gen. Sansern said. "He insists that he will follow the road map. There has been no change. But the Prime Minister will also listen to the voice of the people and consider what is right under the legal frame work in any decision he makes."
Visanu Krue-ngam, deputy Prime Minister, declined to comment on the issue. "I do not have any opinion about it, and I cannot say how the society will react to this referendum," Visanu said, "Right now, I am only thinking about the referendum for the new constitution. Holding referendum on other issues is not a problem, but at this time, there is no need to talk about that."
For comments, or corrections to this article please contact: [email protected]