Govt 'didn't meddle' with constituencies
The Election Commission (EC) has denied claims that the regime is attempting to interfere with its demarcation of electoral boundaries to give a political edge to a pro-regime party in the upcoming election, tentatively scheduled for Feb 24.
EC chairman Ittiporn Boonpracong said Thursday he did not think the regime invoked Section 44 to issue last Friday's order to wrest control of the redrawing power so constituencies could be divided up to deliver maximum electoral benefits for a pro-regime party, understood to be Palang Pracharath led by Industry Minister Uttama Savanayana.
A source in the EC said a "certain" political party has alleged some constituencies may shrink in a plot to prevent candidates of the pro-regime party from competing against strong rivals.
The allegation was made by a party opposed to the regime, according to the source.
Last Friday's order permits the poll-organising agency to make changes to constituency boundaries until Dec 11, much later than expected, and some politicians and critics fear it may be an attempt by the regime to interfere with the process.
Mr Ittiporn explained the order only provides an opportunity for the EC to address complaints from political parties and voters who say the redrawing of constituencies has failed to take public input into account.
The EC chairman also said the order makes it clear that the demarcation must be in line with related laws. In light of this, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) is legally bound by laws which do not permit it to interfere with the EC, he said.
Mr Ittiporn previously admitted the EC had tentatively finished redrawing the constituency boundaries on Nov 5 although it has not yet announced them.
The EC was having a last-minute review of the new boundaries when he was having eye surgery, Mr Ittiporn said, explaining why the announcement had to be delayed.
But EC regulations allow for this, he added.
Meanwhile, a dozen small political parties petitioned the EC to delay the election until May 5, claiming they need more time to prepare.
Sathu Anumothami, secretary-general of the alliance, forwarded the call for the deferment of the balloting. May 5 is the last day an election can be held, as stipulated by the constitution.
Mr Sathu said the 13 small parties were disadvantaged as they were all new to voters. They needed the extra time to study the new rules and explain their platforms to the public, he said.
Mr Sathu, acting leader of the Palang Thai Dee Party, said the request for a delay was made in their own interests. The parties in the group have no connections with the government or the NCPO, he said.
Chousak Sirinil, a legal spokesman for Pheu Thai, opposed the request. He said it would undermine the public's confidence in the electoral roadmap.
Most voters are keen to cast their ballot on Feb 24 as they have grown impatient with the repeated delays, he added.
Key cabinet ministers and NCPO members, including deputy prime ministers Wissanu Krea-ngam and Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, have repeatedly said there are no plans to push it back.
Also Thursday, the National Legislative Assembly passed a majority vote to approve the appointment of two more election commissioners -- Lertviroj Kowattana and Thitichet Nutchanat -- and so fill the final vacancies on the seven-member EC.
Mr Lertviroj, the former permanent secretary for agriculture, received 148 votes and Mr Thitichet, adviser to the Lawyers Council, won 149. They each needed the support of more than 120 of the 240 assembly members.
The vote was held behind closed doors after members considered reports on the background and behaviour of the two selected candidates.
Eight NLA members abstained for both candidates, 28 members voted against Mr Lertviroj and 27 against Mr Thitichet.
In August, the NLA voted for five election commissioners and rejected two.