More poll delays will spell trouble

More poll delays will spell trouble

The number of activists at Bangkok protests demanding a return to the Feb 24 election date doubled between Sunday and Tuesday (above). Police made no efforts to intervene in Tuesday's rally on the street at Ratchaprasong intersection. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)
The number of activists at Bangkok protests demanding a return to the Feb 24 election date doubled between Sunday and Tuesday (above). Police made no efforts to intervene in Tuesday's rally on the street at Ratchaprasong intersection. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)

The tentative election date of Feb 24 has been delayed again and the Election Commission (EC) has not yet to officially name a replacement.

While some political groups and activists are rallying against the change, I think a delay is understandable as it can help avoid having poll-related activities overlap with the coronation ceremony of His Majesty the King, scheduled for May 4-6.

According to Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, preliminary preparations will take place two weeks before the coronation. After the ceremony, there will be activities to celebrate the occasion for another two weeks.

Soonruth Bunyamanee is editor, Bangkok Post.

Under the constitution, the general election must be completed within 150 days of the organic law governing the election of MPs taking effect on Dec 11, or by May 9.

If the poll is held on Feb 24 as originally planned, the EC would be obligated to endorse the results within 60 days, or by April 24. That would clash with the build-up to the coronation.

After the results have been endorsed, the political climate could intensify as political parties would compete to form a coalition government. Such an environment may be unsuitable at that time as the country will be calling for national unity for the grand occasion.

With the exception of pro-democracy activists, it seems political parties are doing little to resist the prospective delay. This is because that would grant them more time to campaign, given they have been far outpaced by the pro-regime Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP).

This can be blamed on the lengthy political ban, which ended last month. The PPRP, whose four leaders also serve as cabinet members, has allegedly benefited from several government cash handout and subsidy programmes. These populist policies have taken flak for serving as thinly veiled forms of electioneering, with the goal of aiding the PPRP.

Now the question on everyone's lips is: What is the new poll deadline?

Mr Wissanu, who oversees legal affairs, indicated earlier that the most appropriate date would be March 24, as that would mean all post-election activities could take place after the post-coronation activities.

But a potential legal problem has surfaced, raising concern the poll results could end up being nullified.

If the poll date is set for March 24, the EC would technically still have a 60-day period to endorse the results, until roughly May 24. But that might render the election unconstitutional as, according to the charter, the poll must be fully wrapped up by May 9.

The charter's use of the term "completed" is also problematic, as it is not clear if this refers to the vote itself or the endorsement of the results. Even Mr Wissanu seems unable to answer this clearly.

If it covers the entire electoral process, and if the endorsement by the EC takes place after May 9, the election could be in breach of the charter, making it vulnerable to legal action.

This could also lead to the poll being nullified. I'm sure there will be someone trying to bring a case like that to the Constitutional Court.

In Thailand, elections are always held on Sunday. When taking this potential legal problem into account, the "safest" date would be March 10. The poll results could be endorsed by May 9. This would agree with the time frame set under the constitution.

As a result, the government and the EC ought to select March 10. That would remove some of the legal complications while avoiding any clashing of calendars.

In addition to the unknown election date, the public has been kept in the dark as to whether Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha will eventually choose to throw his hat in the ring and hope to be nominated as the PPRP's prime ministerial candidate.

While we cannot anticipate the election results, we can expect the EC to set a firm date soon, while the prime minister will soon make his political future clear.

Any further delay of the election would cause more public backlash against the government.

Soonruth Bunyamanee

Bangkok Post Editor

Bangkok Post Editor

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