Poll countdown kicks off

Poll countdown kicks off

Last organic laws endorsed by King

The last two of 10 organic bills that needed to be approved to pave the way for a general election in February were royally endorsed and published in the Royal Gazette on Wednesday, giving them full legal status as His Majesty the King has officially signed off on them.

The much-anticipated bill on the election of MPs and the selection of senators got the green light amid heightened calls from politicians for the regime to lift or ease its ban on parties engaging in political activities, something the regime indicated could happen this month.

The government has also been urged to avoid over-exercising its power during the preparations for the poll.

But while the law pertaining to the Senate took immediate effect, the MP election law will not do so for another 90 days.

During this period, constituencies will be redrawn, among other key processes. The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) is also expected to at least partially lift its ban so parties can recruit new members, amend their internal regulations to align with the new charter and hold primary votes.

This is due to be followed by a 150-day period that is supposed to kick off with the Election Commission (EC) announcing a firm date for the poll.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has tentatively suggested it will be held on Feb 24 but later suggested it could be delayed further until April or May.

One key feature of the law on the selection of senators is an interim provision which states that the next batch of senators will number no fewer than 250.

Under Section 90 of the law, 200 candidates will be shortlisted via intra-group elections at both provincial and national levels under the supervision of the EC. Shortlisted candidates will be forward for consideration by the NCPO, which will choose 50 of them.

A special panel will also be formed to select 400 people with knowledge and expertise in various fields who may be better suited to serve as senators. Their names will also be presented to the NCPO and the final list whittled down to 194 names.

The six remaining seats are reserved for the leaders of the three armed forces, the national police chief, the supreme commander, and the permanent secretary of defence.

The NCPO must finish selecting all 244 senators at least 15 days before the general election.

The approval of the two laws was greeted with cautious enthusiasm by politicians.

Samart Kaewmeechai, a Pheu Thai key member and former Chiang Rai MP, said the party was waiting to see when the NCPO would lift the ban on political activities, especially for gatherings of five or more people.

He said parties deserve the right to convene a general assembly and should soon be granted the right to select their executives and review their regulations.

Nipit Intarasombat, a core Democrart Party member, said the party hopes the EC and NCPO, which it described as "referees" using a sporting analogy, would act fairly in enforcing all rules related to the preparations for the poll.

The NCPO has been attacked by critics for its alleged ties to a newly established party many believe was set up to help Gen Prayut return as "outsider prime minister".

If this proves true, the regime could bend certain rules and create others to serve its own vested interests and give that party an unfair advantage, pundits say.

Mr Nipit said the EC must leave no room for suspicion or doubt that it is taking its cue from the NCPO. The NCPO, meanwhile, must refrain from exercising the all-powerful Section 44 to turn state officials into instruments capable of manipulating the vote.

Varawut Silpa-archa, a Chartthaipattana key figure, said the NCPO must understand exactly which political restrictions need to be removed over the next three months to help the parties get ready to hit the campaign trail.

"That needs to be done sooner rather than later," he said, adding the top priority for parties now is organising their first meeting after the long layoff and seeking out new members.

If deadlines are missed, new members would not be admitted and this would have an adverse knock-on effect on the primary vote, which requires members to attend en masse, Mr Varawut said.

The EC also needs time to vet party member databases to prevent duplication, he added.

"The prime minister should be wary of the potential danger involved in trying to accomplish too many tasks at once, as this could affect the election," he said.

Pirkka Tapiola, the EU ambassador to Thailand, said he was "pleased to learn that Thailand has reached this important milestone on the road toward an election.

We "stand ready to support the country as a friend and partner", he added.

Analysts said news of the two laws being approved would bode well for investor sentiment on the Stock Exchange of Thailand.

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