Calls to amend the organic law governing political parties by former protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban have drawn flak from critics suspecting they are a political ruse aimed at delaying the general election tentatively set in November next year, and prolonging the power of the regime.
Emerging from the political wilderness, Mr Suthep, the former leader of the now defunct People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), as well as Paiboon Nititawan, head of the the People’s Network for Reform, have recently called on the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) to amend the legislation to ensure a “political level playing field” for all parties.
Mr Paiboon, whose calls for change were echoed by Mr Suthep, said Section 140 and Section 141 of the law are unfair and should be amended to ensure fair treatment for new parties and new members. The provisions deal with fees, membership and steps in forming new parties.
He said the law exempts existing members from paying membership fees for four years while requiring members of new parties to pay at least 1,000 baht.
He also said the application form for setting up a new party requires “too much” personal information. He said the proposed amendments require that existing party members should not be registered until they too pay membership fees.
The calls for change, arising as they have amid growing calls by parties to lift the ban on political activities, and claims that the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) is already in election campaign mode, have upset the main political parties.
Democrat Party deputy leader Ong-art Klampaiboon said any amendments to the law on political parties will push the schedule for the election back. Updating a party’s membership database as required by the law is not a pressing problem for parties as they can collaborate with the Department of Provincial Administration to verify the information, Mr Ong-art added.
“If the [political party] law is fully enforced and problems occur, there might be enough reasons to change. But the change must benefit the whole of society, not any particular group or individuals,” he said.
Chulalongkorn University political scientist Surachart Bamrungsuk said the proposals are an attempt to delay the election to later than 2018 and allow the NCPO to stay longer in power. Those who have proposed the changes to the law were the people involved in incidents that led to the NCPO seizing power in the 2014 coup.
Parties are waiting for the NCPO to lift the ban on political parties so they can prepare for the poll. But there has been no signal from the NCPO when it will do so.
Korkaew Pikulthong, a key figure of the red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, said the calls for change were unwarranted as the legislation came into effect only recently.
Any changes should have been proposed before the law was enacted, Mr Korkaew said, adding the proposals by Mr Suthep and Mr Paiboon were nothing but a ruse to achieve political gain. Their proposals will play into the hands of the regime because the regime has not yet lifted political restrictions despite the law coming into effect with the deadline for parties to meet, Mr Korkaew said.
Somchai Sawaengkarn, secretary to the NLA whip, said the NLA whip’s meeting had considered proposals from political parties and groups.
He said the Chartthaipattana and Palang Chon parties have raised concerns that parties may not be able to meet the deadline to fulfil certain obligations, such as reviewing their membership database, as stipulated by the organic law.
The law requires all parties to complete certain mandatory processes, such as notifications of changes of party members to the registrar, within 90 days of the law coming into effect on Oct 8. The deadline will be on Jan 5.
Parties are now in a dilemma as they cannot meet these requirements as the NCPO has not lifted the ban, but they will be punished by the law if they miss the deadline.
Mr Somchai said the NLA whip’s meeting saw no need to amend the law because some of its provisional clauses allow parties to petition the secretary-general of the Election Commission who serves as the registrar of parties, to extend the deadline to complete those mandatory processes.
Mr Suthep and Mr Paiboon will be invited to explain why they thought the law was unfair at parliament next Friday.
He said proposals from parties and groups will be forwarded to an NLA committee previously set up to gather feedback on the new charter. The committee is headed by NLA deputy chairman Surachai Liangboonlertchai.