Thailand Passes Bill, Causing Yet Another Election Delay

Originally published on Channel NewsAsia on January 26, 2018

Thailand's National Legislative Assembly have passed a bill that will delay elections into 2019. This is not the first time that the can has been kicked down the road under the current military government. Here's my report explaining why and what's next.

TRANSCRIPT

It was a long day and night for Thailand’s National Legislative Assembly as they debated for 14 hours before eventually passing a bill that will very likely delay democratic elections into 2019.

The bill on MP Elections has been passed with 213 to zero votes and four abstentions by the fully-appointed parliament. The crucial amendment that they have included is a delayed enforcement of the bill of 90 days after it has been endorsed by The King, which according to the constitution is supposed to happen by this summer.

This and three other electoral laws are required to be done before an election can be held, which were originally aimed for November 2018 later this year. However, now that one of the bills comes into effect 90 days later, it means were are going to miss that date.

But the military government’s legal expert, Deputy-PM Wissanu Krea-ngam, has reassured that the delay won’t be long.

WISSANU KREA-NGAM; Thai Deputy Prime Minister:
"90 days doesn’t mean within 90 days. It means that it’s not in effect before 90 days, it is in effect on the 90th day - no sooner, no later. But the elections will take place WITHIN 150 days [after law comes into effect]. So that can be after 1 month, after 2 months, after 3 months, after 4 months, after 5 months - but no longer than that!"

Nevertheless, we are now looking at the possibility of elections in February 2019 at the latest.

Obviously, the political parties that have been sidelined since the military coup of 2014 and prohibited from any activity - they’re not happy about the prospect of yet another election delay.

WATTANA MUANGSOOK; Former MP, Pheu Thai Party:
"Once you’re in the same boat, you owe the captain a favor. But the National Legislative Assembly has a short memory. They forgot that even though the [military government] appointed them, but their salary doesn’t come from the government, it’s from the taxes of the people who want an election."

One of the pressing questions is how does this affect the military government. Some observers think that they are clinging to power, others say they are just stalling and buying themselves more time.

DR. TITIPOL PHAKDEEWANICH; Dean Faculty of Political Science, Ubon Ratchathani University:
"The NCPO are quite certain that they would be able to maintain power after elections. Now I think they are trying to get more space to think through their strategy and also actually to handle the situation or to make deals, perhaps, with different parties or the Pheu Thai [Party].

It is not the first time that elections have been delayed under Thailand’s military government, which has been at the helm for nearly four years - that is ironically longer than some elected governments in recent history. 

Saksith Saiyasombut, Channel NewsAsia, Bangkok