Parties wary despite lift of political ban
Campaigning still on hold amid 'trap' fears
Uncertainty still lingers over whether political parties can begin election campaigns, even though the regime has lifted its prohibition on political activities.
Despite this, political parties have opted to stay on the safe side by avoiding any election campaigning until Jan 2 when a royal decree calling for the Feb 24 election of MPs will be published in the Royal Gazette.
The Feb 24 poll date was officially confirmed at a meeting last Friday between the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and party representatives.
While Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said Tuesday that political parties may now engage in all kinds of political activities, the Election Commission (EC) still had doubts.
EC chairman Ittiporn Boonpracong said he could not tell if political parties can engage in election campaigning and first has to study the regime's latest order allowing parties to conduct political activities.
He said the lifting of the political ban has been well-timed to coincide with the promulgation of the law governing the election of MPs.
Mr Wissanu said that the law on the election of MPs stipulates that election campaigning is allowed when the royal decree on the election of MPs is issued, and that the EC will determine how campaigns are conducted.
Therefore, while waiting for the royal decree to come into force, parties can engage in all kinds of political activities and these activities are not considered election campaigning, Mr Wissanu said.
Now, parties are no longer required to obtain permission from the NCPO to hold meetings or appear on stage to address the public, he added.
"One can say the latest order lets political parties loose.... This is better than when the royal decree comes out because things [election campaigns] must be regulated by law," Mr Wissanu said.
Democrat spokesman Thana Chiravinij welcomed the lifting of the ban, although he thought election campaigning would not be permitted until Jan 2 when the royal decree is issued.
In fact, actual election campaigns will take place after poll candidacy applications are submitted between Jan 14 to 18, he said.
Key Pheu Thai Party figure, Chalerm Ubumrung, said that the lifting of the political ban only permits political activities such as political gatherings, but election campaigns are still banned.
He believed politicians can go on stage to canvass for votes only after the enforcement of the royal decree on the election of MPs. Worachai Hema, a former Pheu Thai MP from Samut Prakan, said the lifting of the political ban still caused confusion as it was unclear if election campaigns were still banned.
"Is this a trap laid for us? What if we engage in activities seen to be election campaigns and they take action against us?" Mr Worachai said.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, in his capacity as NCPO chief, issued Order No.22/2018 lifting the prohibition on political activities, including political gatherings and support for political activities, as the law governing the election of MPs, which was earlier published in the Royal Gazette, took effect immediately. However, the lifting of the ban will have no bearing on the prosecution of earlier violators of the ban, according to the order.
Gen Prayut's order said as the royal decree on the general election was approaching, people should have the freedom to decide which parties they want to administer the nation, and political parties should be able to campaign for votes and present their policies to the public.
"Political parties should be able to campaign to present their policies," the order said.
Restrictions were first eased in September, allowing political parties to recruit new members and elect leaders. But campaigns and street rallies remained banned.
Tuesday's order raises the prospect of a return to street rallies that have defined much of the turbulent last decade of Thai politics before the 2014 coup. However, laws already in place stipulate that police will need to be informed of any political gatherings 24 hours in advance.
The latest NCPO order has also lifted the ban on allocations of financial support to parties by the Fund for Development of Political Parties, political gatherings of five or more people and the use of electronic media to communicate with party members.