Ex-coup boss pushes poll

Ex-coup boss pushes poll

Sonthi frets over signs of delays to roadmap

Former coup leader Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin has jumped on the election bandwagon, calling on the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to stick to its poll roadmap.

His comments came after the coup-installed National Legislative Assembly (NLA) on Thursday voted to reject the seven Election Commission (EC) finalists, which sparked concerns over a further election delay.

According to Gen Sonthi, he was alarmed by the NLA's rejection of all seven candidates and believes it is a sign of the political roadmap being pushed back.

"I'd like to ask the NCPO and the government to think about the roadmap and follow through on it," he said, adding that the regime should pay heed to the people's demands.

He said the NCPO should learn from the country's past, particularly incidents leading people to take to the streets to pressure those in power.

Gen Sonthi did not rule out a possibility of another coup, but this time led by those protesting on the streets, saying that it would just be an example of the cyclical nature of Thai politics.

"It would be best for the NCPO to listen to the public," he advised.

Gen Sonthi staged a coup in 2006 to topple the Thaksin Shinawatra administration but he, in the opinion of some observers, failed to "go all the way" in rooting out corruption and straightening out mismanagement by the administration.

He later entered politics by forming the Matubhum Party and becoming an MP.

At one point, his party proposed a national reconciliation bill, which was one of several brought before the Pheu Thai-led administration. However, critics called the bill an amnesty in disguise to whitewash Thaksin.

Gen Sonthi yesterday said it was too early to tell if his party would take part in a general election or support the regime.

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam gave assurances yesterday that the NLA's rejection of all the EC candidates would not push back the general election but might affect local elections.

He said the new EC members would be appointed within 90 days and possibly even before June when the lifting of the ban on political activities is expected ahead of elections for local administrative organisations (LAOs).

He insisted the NLA's latest move would not lead to an election delay and countered that politicians were ready to attack the government no matter what.

Gen Sonthi said he had no idea why the NLA rejected all the candidates.

A closed-door meeting was held to consider a report on the candidates' qualifications and after the meeting, which lasted more than an hour, a secret vote was held, with a total of 248 NLA members taking part.

No candidate gained the backing of more than 50% of those lawmakers present at the meeting, and consequently the NLA was unable to offer its endorsement to any of them.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon yesterday rejected speculation that the NLA had received "an order" from the regime to veto the EC candidates.

He said the NLA had the freedom to make its own decision and also attempted to allay concerns the move would also delay local elections.

"Let's see how things go in June," he said.

Adisorn Naonon, an academic at Rajabhat University of Nakhon Ratchasima, said he was not surprised by the move, but called on the NLA to clarify why not a single shortlisted candidate was able to win endorsement.

The academic was sceptical that any candidates would be able to meet the NCPO's specifications, but said he did not believe the general election would be delayed because of this.

Pheu Thai member Chusak Sirnil echoed this view, and urged the NLA to explain the decision which appeared to contradict the selection committee's statement that they were suitable candidates.

He said there was something else going on behind the scenes and raised the possibility the shortlisted candidates might not have been wanted by the NCPO.

Varavut Silpa-archa, leader of the Chart Thai Party, said he is not concerned about the poll delay because the caretaker EC, led by Supachai Somcharoen, can carry on with the task.

"If the issue is used as an excuse to postpone the election further, I think the NCPO must clarify the situation. But I believe with the election laws and the caretaker EC in place, the poll can proceed in line with the roadmap," he said.

He said the selection process, which included NLA representatives, should have yielded a list which would have fared better during the lawmakers' vote.

"Why didn't they carefully examine the candidates before forwarding the list?" he said.

Meanwhile, EC member Somchai Srisutthiyakorn said yesterday the parties concerned should find out what went wrong with the selection process to prevent a recurrence.

Mr Somchai said the process of selecting candidates is now effectively back to square one, possibly due to more rigid qualifications and regulations imposed by the Constitution Drafting Committee.

The caretaker EC would do its best to make preparations for the coming elections but he admitted he would feel uncomfortable organising elections under the current circumstances.

This remark caused a stir and sparked rumours he was considering stepping down.

This came amid concerns that the caretaker EC may not be able to do its job because Mr Supachai, the EC chairman, is about to turn 70 and will be forced by law to retire.

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