All signs point to an election

All signs point to an election

The messages coming from the men in uniform and those who helped them seize power are all positive. It makes democracy lovers such as myself feel a little more secure that after failing to deliver its promises for the past few years, the military government could hold an election in November 2018.

Given the fact that elections are usually held on Sundays and assuming that the government plans to hold on to power until the last day it can, the last day to hold elections would be Nov 25, which would mean that the country would be back to a democratic system 343 days from today.

The assurance of a return of democracy has come from all sides over the past week and more weight has been added after the European Union decided to loosen its policy in dealing with Thailand.

However, a loosening of the laws to help political parties function is still far from being realised even though a deadline for parties to complete mandatory processes is in less than 20 days.

The organic law requires all parties to complete processes, such as notifications of changes of party members to the registrar, within 90 days of the law coming into effect on Oct 8, 2017. The deadline will be on Jan 5, 2018.

The military government has said that it may use the all-powerful Section 44 to amend the law on political parties to address the issue if the deadline is not met.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha this past week insisted that the military regime would gradually ease its ban on political parties and that politicians would have enough time to prepare for the polls.

But before the move could be made, he said, the priority was to insure there was room for smaller parties to participate and opportunity given to newly formed parties that would likely participate in the elections. At the same time, larger parties have been asking for more time to sort their issues out.

Gen Prayut has hinted that he would allow people to apply for party membership and make donations, and these words echoed those of Suthep Thaugsuban, former leader of the defunct People's Democratic Reform Council (PDRC).

Mr Suthep, who led the PDRC protest movement in 2013-14, has suddenly started to make his mark on the political front by coming out to make statements, indicating that he may soon want to join the political fray. He has called on a fair political playing field for all.

The fact that Gen Prayut is looking to make amendments is positive as it would help new players to come in when an election is held and would offer the public more choice than just the handful of parties that we are accustomed to.

While all these issues were being discussed, there was speculation that the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) has been instructed to derail some of the organic laws so as to delay the election.

But these rumours seem to be just rumours for now. This was confirmed by the likes of Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, who said that claims that the regime was giving signals to make changes to organic laws to prolong its grip on power were baseless.

Mr Wissanu insisted that the constitution stipulates a time frame leading to the election tentatively set for November next year and that compliance with the constitution is mandatory, adding that any amendments to the charter to postpone procedures relating to the general election are nearly impossible.

Ever since the coup of 2014, these men in uniform that seized power have promised elections in 2015, 2016 and then 2017 before finally settling on November 2018. The promise of 2018 polls has been made at various meetings and forums and it is our only hope that this time the promise is kept.

It is also in the best interest of the military to start to give up its hold as an anti-incumbency factor has already started to emerge in the country, while at the same time the likes of the Gen Anupong Paochinda and Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, whom Gen Prayut considers as "brothers", have shot themselves in the foot many times -- Gen Anupong with his various scandals involving procurement of military and police equipment and Gen Prawit with his expensive watches and other controversies.

With just 342 days remaining before the possible election day, the regime should start to realise that the longer they stay in power, they only stand to lose the goodwill that they have managed to build over the past few years.

Umesh Pandey is Bangkok Post editor.

Umesh Pandey

Bangkok Post Editor

Umesh Pandey is Editor, Bangkok Post.

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