Diplomats slam poll delay

The National Legislative Assembly debates the MP election bill before voting 196-12 to pass it on Thursday. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)

Foreign diplomats have given the thumbs down to the National Legislative Assembly’s (NLA) decision to extend the enforcement of the organic bill on MP elections by another 90 days, which will effectively result in the general election being delayed until February 2019.

They have repeated calls for the general election to be held in November as previously promised by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

Meanwhile, Thai critics have slammed the 90-day extension of the bill’s enforcement, saying the NLA has used legal technicalities to help the regime cling on to power. The 90-day extension was proposed by the NLA panel vetting the bill on MP elections.

The majority of the panel last Friday voted for it to take effect only 90 days after it was passed and published in the Royal Gazette, instead of immediately.

According to the constitution, an election must be held within 150 days of the four election-related laws being promulgated, and Gen Prayut had tentatively announced that an election would be held this November.

Pirkka Tapiola, EU Ambassador to Thailand, stated that relations with Thailand remain under review.

He said the EU would continue to call for the lifting of restrictions on freedom of assembly and the activities of political parties and civil groups, while expecting the kingdom to act in accordance with Gen Prayut’s earlier statement regarding the holding of credible and inclusive elections in line with international standards.

US embassy spokesman Stephane Castonguay yesterday said that Washington’s position on elections was also unchanged.

“We welcomed the prime minister’s public commitment to hold national elections no later than November 2018. We look forward to Thailand’s return to a democratic government via free and fair elections as soon as possible. This would allow us to strengthen our relationship and for Thailand to be a strong and stable regional leader,” the spokesman said.

Finland’s ambassador Satu Suikkari-Kleven reiterated the comments made by the EU ambassador earlier this week, calling for the lifting of the various restrictions and encouraging a return to democracy under the previously announced conditions.

Gen Prayut said in New Delhi, India, while attending the Asean-India Commemorative Summit yesterday that such an amendment to the organic bill on MP elections had been made by the NLA without external influence of any kind. He said he and the NCPO would always comply with rules, principles and laws.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon yesterday gave assurances that the general election will definitely be held in February 2019 and there will be no more postponements of the poll.

Gen Prawit, also defence minister, said there was no need to further explain the delay to foreign countries as the NLA already gave clear reasons.

Asked if Gen Prayut would lose credibility for failing to keep his promise to hold an election this November, Gen Prawit said that the election will definitely take place and has only been postponed by three months.

Responding to calls for the lifting of political restrictions, Gen Prawit said that the ban on political activities will be lifted in accordance with the procedures laid out by the charter.

Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said there was nothing surprising about the delay, but the more pertinent questions surround the purpose of the delay and who it will serve most.

His comments were construed by observers as a hint that the delay was designed to give new political parties more time to prepare themselves for the poll.

Speculation has been rife that one of the new parties that would be registered would be a military party, possibly in everything but name.

Democrat Party deputy leader Nipit Intarasombat said yesterday that it was clear that the 90-day extension was part of the regime’s game plan to prolong its hold on power by using legal technicalities.

“There is nothing the Democrat Party can do about it. We only feel sorry for the
people who want the country to return to
democracy,” Mr Nipit said.

Chusak Sirinil, chief of the Pheu Thai Party’s legal team, said the decision was only to be expected given that the NLA belongs to the same clique as the regime.

The decision ignored public sentiment and was obviously a tool to help the regime prolong its hold on power for as long as possible, Mr Chusak said, adding that the 90-day extension will only work to the advantage of new emerging parties which will be set up to run in the poll.

Former Chartthaipattana MP Siripong Angkhasakulkiat said that the regime has postponed an election four times now and the latest setback must be the last.

Mr Siripong said that NLA members should focus more on their work ethic rather than exploiting legal loopholes to serve the regime’s wishes.