Govt gears up for local elections

Govt gears up for local elections

NCPO 'testing the waters' for 2019 poll

Polls could come back after the Local Administration Department has been told to set up
Polls could come back after the Local Administration Department has been told to set up "a war room" to prepare local elections.

The government is preparing to hold local elections this year as it wants to "test the waters" ahead of the national election expected next February, a source says.

The move comes as the government is likely to reinstate several more local leaders put on suspension pending corruption probes in what is seen by critics as a ploy to achieve political aims at the general election.

A source at the Election Commission (EC) said the government has told the Local Administration Department to set up "a war room" to prepare local elections as the government wanted to assess local support for the government and parties. The local polls could also help ease public calls for a speedy return to democracy.

The source said the results of local elections will be factored in when the government makes a decision to hold the general election, which has been delayed several times.

Attention is zeroing in on the emergence of the Pracharath Party, a pro-regime party that is believed to be ready to support Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to return in the same role after the election.

Speculation is rife the regime is forging alliances with small, medium-sized parties to draw former MPs from these parties to support the pro-Prayut party as the regime looks for ways to maintain its influence.

The source said that a timeline has been drawn up for local elections in areas which will not be affected by the redrawing of electoral boundaries. They include large administrative zones with clear boundaries such as Bangkok, Pattaya, and provincial administrations.

Wanchai Jaikusol, director of the EC's election administration department, said the Council of State, which is the government's legal advisory body, has finished scrutinising six legislative bills relating to local elections.

The bills will be forwarded to the cabinet for consideration and then to the National Legislative Assembly for endorsement.

Local elections will be held within 45 days of these bills coming into effect.

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said on Saturday the government will reinstate several more local leaders on suspension pending probes after four were earlier allowed to resume their positions.

After the 2014 military coup, Gen Prayut, in his capacity as the chief of the National Council of Peace and Order (NCPO), issued orders suspending about 300 elected chiefs of provincial and tambon administrations on corruption suspicions, citing the need to sideline them during the investigations. It also froze all local elections.

The suspension orders are meant to prevent officials from tampering with evidence during the probes.

On Monday, Gen Prayut issued a prime ministerial order to reinstate four provincial administrative organisation (PAO) chiefs.

The order reverses the suspensions previously ordered by Gen Prayut.

The four PAO chiefs are Sathiraporn Naksuk of Yasothon, Malairak Thongpha of Mukdahan, Boonlert Buranupakorn of Chiang Mai and Chaimongkol Chairop of Sakon Nakhon.

Mr Wissanu explained on Saturday why the four PAO chiefs were allowed to resume their posts.

"One was found not guilty. Another committed a slight misdemeanour and was issued a warning. The case against another was dismissed by the court. The other faced an allegation for a crime that took place long ago," he said.

Keeping the four on suspension on these grounds was not right and they will resume full authority while their terms continue uninterrupted, he said.

He added dozens of officials have been reinstated to date.

The deputy prime minister said several others under investigation also fell into these categories and were likely to be reinstated.

He said priority would be given to the cases dismissed by the courts and cases in which suspects were proven to be innocent.

"By now, all local leaders most likely have completed their four-year terms and it's possible to call local elections nationwide or we could allow the polls only at the provincial or tambon levels, or the areas unaffected by the redrawing of new electoral boundaries," he said.

There were 76 provincial administrations and 5,333 tambon administrations as of December last year.

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