Prawit frets at poll campaigns

Prawit frets at poll campaigns

Parties warned not to take aim at regime

The top election planners, side by side at Government House: Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwon (left) in charge of security and Gen Anupong Paojinda, Minister of Interior in charge of organising all polls, local and national. (Photo via Twitter/@wassanananuam)
The top election planners, side by side at Government House: Deputy Prime Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwon (left) in charge of security and Gen Anupong Paojinda, Minister of Interior in charge of organising all polls, local and national. (Photo via Twitter/@wassanananuam)

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon warned candidates who intend to run in local elections to avoid campaigns that "attack" the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).

Gen Prawit issued the warning Monday after hinting last week that the NCPO would partially lift the ban on political activities by allowing local administrative body elections to be held.

Gen Prawit's concern has surfaced with the military-appointed government under increasing pressure to lift the ban, following years of restrictions on political affairs after the NCPO staged a coup to topple the Pheu Thai Party-led administration in 2014 to end the severe political conflict between anti- and pro-Thaksin groups.

But with the military's decision to pave the way for political freedoms, Gen Prawit on Monday called for "cooperation" in carrying out election campaigns in a way that will "not drive a wedge into the conflict and attack the NCPO".

Authorities have begun to discuss ways to amend five laws concerning the elections of local administrative bodies, including the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, municipalities and tambon administration organisations (TAOs). However, they have not confirmed when the local elections will he held.

So far the government has only posited November of next year as a date for general elections.

Gen Prawit also failed to give any date for local elections, just telling reporters that they "will occur soon".

Democrat Party deputy leader Nipit Intarasombat welcomed the NCPO's decision but questioned the word "attack" used by the deputy prime minister.

Mr Nipit said the government must differentiate between "attack" and "criticise". In his view, the government should be subject to criticism and, during the elections, candidates should have the right to comment or criticise what the government has done over the past three years.

He said he does not believe there will be a law that will prohibit this right.

When a government has been in power for a long time, it seems they become a "sacred figure who cannot be infringed", Mr Nipit said.

Mr Nipit, a former Lower House representative for Phatthalung, said that he believes the government does not want political parties to become involved in local elections for fear that local election campaigns might be used to attack the NCPO.

Usually, he said political parties usually do not want to get involved in local elections. However, this norm may change due to the importance of the forthcoming national elections.

If it appears that the head of a provincial administration organisation (PAO) will serve as a canvasser for the Democrats' rival parties, his party would need to field its own people to compete for the PAO top post, he said.

Mr Nipit said that Bangkok is also an area political parties have to pay attention to because it is the most important local administrative body politicians use to gauge political popularity.

Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva echoed Mr Nipit, saying the government must make clear the role of political parties in local elections because "national politics is somewhat connected with localities".

He supported the NCPO's move to unlock political activities, but wanted to make sure it will also give fair treatment to local officials who have been suspended from work following the severe regime crackdowns on corruption in state agencies since 2015.

Many officials, including PAO and TAO heads, have been purged from their posts under orders issued by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha under Section 44 of the interim charter that grants him sweeping power in administrative, legislative and judicial affairs.

Mr Abhisit questioned whether the government had conducted complete probes into their alleged wrongdoings.

"They may have done nothing wrong but, with the [job] suspensions, can they still run in local elections?" he said.

The plan to hold local elections has already caused authorities to start working on legal amendments in connection with local administrative bodies.

National Legislative Assembly chairman Pornpetch Wichitcholchai said the NLA whip will this week start studying laws that must be changed to comply with the 2017 charter.

Constitution Drafting Committee chairman Meechai Ruchupan said the Election Commission has a right to organise the elections itself or have authorities to work on its behalf.

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