Apirat defends EC order amid govt gerrymandering concern
Army chief Apirat Kongsompong has affirmed that the regime's latest order allowing the Election Commission (EC) to make changes to constituency boundaries until Dec 11 will not affect the proposed Feb 24 poll date.
However, the order fuelled suspicion among critics over the potential for gerrymandering as a few days before it was issued, the EC said it had already completed the redrawing and was preparing to announce the new boundaries.
Gen Apirat, in his capacity as secretary-general of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), was referring on Monday to Order No.16/2018 issued last Friday.
Order No.16/2561 published last Friday in the Royal Gazette, was issued by the authority of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, under Section 44 of the 2014 interim constitution as the chief of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). Section 44 powers remain in force until after an elected government is sworn into office.
It authorises the EC to make changes to constituencies and also stipulates that political parties must conclude their primary votes by the time candidate applications begin.
Gen Apirat pointed out that the order is intended to give the EC enough time to come up with an electoral boundary map which suits both voters and parties.
"The new order will not affect the roadmap," Gen Apirat insisted.
Gen Apirat said Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, as the NCPO's chief, issued the order to make sure the redrawing of all 350 constituencies is done before the bill on the election of MPs takes effect on Dec 11, as well as include provisions for addressing complaints.
The regime claims the order is a response to growing criticism that the redrawing of constituencies has failed to take public input into account.
However, critics have cast doubt on the motivation behind the order.
According to EC president Ittiporn Boonpracong, the EC had earlier issued a regulation on redrawing constituency boundaries, requiring it to announce the new constituencies in the Royal Gazette by Nov 10.
Mr Ittiporn admitted that the EC had, in fact, finished redrawing the constituency boundaries on Nov, 5.
The EC was reviewing them for the last time when he had to have eye surgery, Mr Ittiporn said. Therefore, the announcement had to be delayed, he said.
However, he explained the EC regulations already allowed for such a delay.
Mr Ittiporn dismissed concerns those in power might ask the EC to further revise the constituency boundaries.
"We'll comply with related laws and will finish the job by the deadline [Dec 11]. After all, the NCPO's new order explicitly says the EC has to do the job by the criteria defined in the law."
Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said yesterday the NCPO's new order was issued to protect the EC from accusations of malfeasance surrounding the delay.
He added that numerous complaints about the matter had already been filed with the NCPO and the EC.
The deputy prime minister also confirmed the order would not result in a delay to the Feb 24 election date.