New poll date promise yet to be tested
On Jan 1, 2018, the <i>Bangkok Post</i> took the bold step of sending a message to the coup-led government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha that there were just 329 days remaining before the election he promised would have to be held.
The 329 days were calculated on the basis that all elections in this country in the recent past have been held on a Sunday and the last Sunday of November this year is Nov 25. The countdown, which appeared in a box on the front page, annoyed those in power as it was a constant reminder of the number of days they had left in office and, despite pressure to pull the countdown, the Bangkok Post maintained its position.
Umesh Pandey is Editor, Bangkok Post.
Within 20 days of the start of the countdown, the rubber-stamp parliament of the coup makers, the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), voted to delay enforcement of the election laws by 90 days, a move that would guarantee that the November general election would be delayed for at least three months. Yet the Bangkok Post decided not to scrap the countdown to keep reminding the coup leader of his promise, qualified by a later remark that the election "may be" delayed, but without any details on when it would be held.
Gen Prayut has now come out to confirm that the election is now likely to be put off until February. He gave the new date in a question and answer session with reporters Tuesday. If the same logic is applied of using the last Sunday of February 2019 as the possible election date, the next election, now promised for February of 2019, will be held 361 days from today, Wednesday.
The Bangkok Post could opt to continue the countdown by adding another 90 days to the 271 days that remain for the previous November 2017 poll promise. But we are opting to remove the countdown for now, and will resume counting down to the oft-promised poll at a time more appropriate, such as this September, six months from the new target date, just to remind the junta that it has a promise to keep.
The military regime has been breaking promises ever since it seized power from the Pheu Thai Party in May 2014 and it did not come as a surprise that the November 2018 promise was broken. The pledge of an election in 2018 was first made in Washington during a joint statement at the White House after Gen Prayut met US President Donald Trump.
After he returned to Thailand, when pressed by the media to clarify the joint statement, Gen Prayut said November 2018 was the time fixed for the election. He made the remark on Oct 10 last year, which happened to be a Tuesday, the day he normally holds a press conference after his weekly cabinet meeting. On Tuesday, once again after his weekly cabinet meeting, Gen Prayut took to the podium, this time to declare that "February  is the month of the election".
The coup makers have promised polls since they first took power. The government pledged in 2014, soon after the putsch, that an election would be held within a year, then as the days, weeks and months passed by, hopes of having an election in 2015 faded. Hopes were reignited that an election would be held in 2016, after Gen Prayut made another poll promise when he met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo. On that occasion he said a poll would be held one year from the Feb 9, 2015 meeting date.
Once again, days, weeks and months passed; the year 2016 came and went with still no sign of a return to democracy. The year 2017 was a year for mourning the late King so an election was not expected anyway, but hopes were sky high for a 2018 poll until late January this year. With so many delays and broken promises by this junta, this might just be a case of the government making a new promise which could be discarded as easily as the rest.
The broken promises coupled with an inability to improve the livelihoods of lower- and middle-class people is starting to take its toll on the government's popularity. The rise in the number of protests, be it from disgruntled farmers, or those seeking the return of democracy, is a clear indicator that dissatisfaction against the government is on the rise. The junta's credibility is being hurt with every move it takes and, as the pressure starts to mount, it is advisable that no further delays be announced, and that Thailand return to democracy with an election to be held 361 days from today.
The media has been acting as the de-facto opposition to monitor the government, and the Bangkok Post will continue to do so. While we might be pulling out of the countdown for now, we shall surely return to it, to remind this government it has a promise to keep -- an election on Feb 24, 2019.
Bangkok Post Editor
Umesh Pandey is Editor, Bangkok Post.