EC refuses to set date unless government moves first
published : 4 Jan 2019 at 18:30
writer: Mongkol Bangprapa
The Election Commission has thrown the ball back into government’s court, saying it will set the election date only after the government formally issues the royal decree on elections.
EC president Ittiporn Boonpracong issued a statement on Friday after Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said the previous day that the polling date, previously believed to be Feb 24, would be moved so that post-election activities would not overlap with the coronation ceremony, set for May 4-6.
“We acknowledge the details on the ceremony given by the deputy prime minister on Jan 3 and our office is fully ready to hold the MP election,” the statement said. “We will set the date for the election and announce it once the royal decree on the election is published in the Royal Gazette.”
Earlier, the EC had said Jan 4 was the last day that the decree could be issued, otherwise it could not organise the polls by Feb 24.
As of 6pm on Friday, the decree had not been issued by the government.
EC secretary-general Charoongvit Poomma met Mr Wissanu at Government House on Friday afternoon after the EC met in the morning. He did not reveal what was discussed, but said the EC president would hold a briefing later in the day.
Mr Wissanu said on Friday that the government had asked the EC to reconsider the election date by taking into account the royal ceremony.
“What concerns us is post-election activity. [We’re not sure] whether announcing the results would affect the ceremony. The senators list will also have to be submitted to His Majesty close to that time. The King will also have to preside over the inauguration of the new Parliament’s first meeting,” he said.
He added that based on the timeline of the activities (see below), the poll should be held on March 24 so that results can be announced on May 22, after the royal ceremonies have ended.
He pointed out that once the royal decree is issued, parties can start campaigning and the counting of their expenses will begin.
“We also need to give them enough time to campaign, or around 52 days. We’ll take that that into consideration when we issue the decree,” he added.
Uncertainty about the poll date has drawn heavy criticism from politicians and the public.
Somchai Srisutthiyakorn, a former EC member who is now a Democrat Party candidate for a seat in Samut Sakhon, speculated the government has four intentions.
First, he said, it wants to put off the poll as long as possible so that it has more time to impress voters in the final stretch.
Second, it wants the results to be announced after the royal ceremony.
Third, it wants the words “the election will be delayed” to come from the EC.
Fourth, it wants to keep the upper hand by refraining from issuing the decree until the time comes when the EC can no longer afford to sit back and has to agree to the delay.
Mr Somchai said the EC itself had four cards to play.
First, if the government wants to put off the poll, it has to explain the reasons itself. “That’s why the EC didn’t attend the briefing with Mr Wissanu after Thursday’s meeting,” he said.
Second, the EC is aware a short delay might not affect people’s feelings much, but if the delay is a month, it would not be able to handle public anger.
Third, even if the delay is two weeks or one month, the EC wants to announce the results of 95% of the votes before May 9, the deadline set under the 150-day framework. The EC wants to play it safe because the constitution uses the loosely worded phrase “the election must be completed within 150 days after the organic laws take effect”.
The EC does not want lawsuits, since “completed” could be interpreted as “ballots are cast” or “results are announced”, he said.
Fourth, a Feb 24 date or a delay by not more than two weeks are most likely the secret wishes of the EC but it depends on when the government issues the decree.
Mr Somchai, who was sacked from the commission by Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha under a Section 44 order last year, also had four pieces of advice for the incumbent election commissioners.
First, the EC must not remain silent and must explain things to the people.
Second, it should insist that a Feb 24 vote is still possible if the government issues the decree within the next two weeks.
Third, it should tell the public the poll could be delayed by not more than two weeks if the government issues the decree a month from now.
Finally, the EC should ask for the government’s word that it would accept joint responsibility, both civil and criminal, if the EC announces the results beyond the 150-day period and is sued for holding an unconstitutional election, which could lead to the vote being nullified.
According to the timeline set out at a joint meeting between the National Council for Peace and Order and political parties on Dec 7 last year:
- Jan 2: Government announces royal decree for election to be held. Parties officially start campaigns. (This did not happen)
- Jan 4: EC announces the election date, number of MPs, constituencies and MP application locations.
- Jan 14-18: MP applications take place. Parties release names of their prime ministerial candidates.
- Jan 25: Qualified party-list and constituency MP candidates announced
- Feb 4-16: Overseas voting held
- Feb 17: Advanced voting held
- Feb 24: General election held
- April 25: Official voting results announced (not less than 95%)
- May 9: Parliament convenes. Prime minister elected, cabinet formed, existing cabinet and NCPO relieved of duty, new government delivers policy statement within 15 days