PM Promises Local Elections This Year, But No Money for Them Yet

A file photo of people checking the names of eligible voters for an election.
A file photo of people checking the names of eligible voters for an election.

BANGKOK — PM Prayut Chan-o-cha on Monday said local elections will be held within this year as planned, despite an earlier statement by his deputy that all the funds have been used on coronavirus relief efforts.

Deputy PM Wissanu Wissanu Krea-ngam had suggested that voting for local administrators may be delayed since the government already spent the earmarked funds to assist those affected by the virus epidemic. But Prayut said he will work with relevant authorities to go ahead with the elections.

“Let me see whether I can work this out,” Prayut told reporters. “I will make sure that they will happen.”

Local administrative elections, including that of Bangkok Governor, were suspended after the military seized power in 2014. They were scheduled to take place in 2020.

But much of the central budget, including the funds reserved for holding elections, went to 5,000 baht cash relief programs and other relief efforts, officials said.

Opposition lawmakers accused the government of reckless spending and trying to maintain its grip on power. Move Forward spokesman Nattacha Boonchaiinsawat said Wissanu’s statement reflects the administration’s reluctance to decentralize power and its inability to manage the crisis.

“His remarks could imply that he is admitting that the exclusive branch screws up,” Nattacha said. “This is a kind of Sunday news that makes me feel blue. The government never realizes and understands the needs of people.”

Watana Muangsook, a senior member of the Pheu Thai Party, said Prayut was using the epidemic as a scapegoat for its failure.

“I previously thought that the government would only blame COVID-19 for its economic failure. I never thought that the tyrant would blame it for everything,” Watana wrote online.

Transparency activist Srisuwan Janya said he will file a negligence complaint against all members of the Cabinet for delaying local voting. He said fundings for the elections could be shifted from the government’s central budget and there is no reason for the government to buy more time.

“It’s just an excuse,” Srisuwan said. “The by-election in Lampang was already held, how the nationwide local elections couldn’t? Or the government still wants to maintain its power grip or has hidden benefits with the current local leaders?”