Possible Election Deferment is Plot to Benefit Junta: Critics

Then-army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha on March 30, 2014, casts his ballot for a Senate election in Bangkok.

BANGKOK — An attempt to defer elections until next year by the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly could be intended to give the military regime a better chance of returning to power after polls take place, critics said Tuesday.

The National Legislative Assembly, NLA, on Thursday will cast the second and third votes on a proposed amendment to defer by 90 days the enforcement of an organic bill that would push elections back to February 2019.

Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha – who also leads the junta known as the National Council for Peace and Order, or NCPO – denied on Monday that he had anything to do with the move.

“There is no order,” Prayuth said, seeking to refute claims his government was involved.

But critics said the move aimed to give the junta a better chance at returning to power after elections.

“I think the real motive can be detected by society – to defer the elections as long as possible,” said Chaithawat Tulathon, Chiang Mai-based editor of Same Sky Magazine, a left-wing journal.

Chaithawat said the NCPO likely wants to secure greater support to give Prayuth a better opportunity of returning as prime minister after the promised November elections.

“To rush the elections may not be in the best interest of the military party,” Chaithawat said, referring to the much-speculated formation of a pro-military or military party to compete in the next elections.

Student activist Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal said Tuesday that the junta will have to make sure it has an adequate voter base before plunging into polls.

“They won’t earn many votes if elections are held this year,” said Netiwit, adding that the military regime’s is now unpopular due to the more than two-dozen undeclared luxury watch scandal plaguing Deputy Prime Minister Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan. “They want to secure their power and heighten their chances of forming a [post-election] government.”

Expressing similar views, Siripan Nogsuan Sawasdee, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, said the main rationale behind the move was the fact that the pro-military party is not ready to compete in elections.

“They will do all it takes to ensure the NCPO will continue to be in power,” Siripan said.

Some of those who agree with such logic warned however that the move could backfire.

Political analyst Chamnan Chanruang said that nearly four years after the 2014 coup, the junta appears to be facing a Catch 22. He said the junta will likely lose if they try to compete in elections scheduled for November.

“If they stay on, they also risk being in ruins. There will be a lot of counter reactions if they prolong their stay in power,” Chamnan said, adding that if the voice of the opposition is loud enough, the NLA may retreat on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Netiwit said that whether people will accept another deferment of elections is up to society.

“Nevertheless, if people do not accept it, how can they express themselves?” Netiwit said, referring to the ban on political gatherings and restricted press which makes it difficult for dissent to manifest.