Wissanu wants poll March 24

Wissanu wants poll March 24

EC's plan for earlier date now in jeopardy

The Election Commission's (EC) proposal to set March 10 as the new election date could be scuppered as the government prefers March 24 instead.

While the EC is authorised by law to set the poll date, the government is responsible for announcing the election and submitting the announcement for royal endorsement.

The EC is required to set the date within five days of a royal decree calling for the election being published in the Royal Gazette.

Responding to reporters' questions, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said Thursday that March 24 would be the most suitable poll date compared to other potential dates such as March 3, 10, and 17. The earlier dates do not leave enough time for election campaigning, he said.

He believed the royal decree calling for the election of MPs is likely to be announced in the Royal Gazette next week.

Under the constitution, the general election must be completed within 150 days of the organic law governing the election of MPs taking effect, which took place on Dec 11, or by May 9.

"If the election is held on March 24, there will be 45-47 days [for the EC to endorse the poll results based on the May 9 deadline] and this will not overlap with any royal ceremony. It depends on the EC managing things within the May 9 deadline," Mr Wissanu said.

He also pointed out that he, legal experts, as well as the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) explained to the National Legislative Assembly that the 60-day period for the endorsement of poll results is separate from the the 150-day period for holding the election.

He referred to a constitutional provision which requires the EC to "complete" the election within 150 days of the law on the election of MPs taking effect.

A debate is raging over whether the term "complete" refers to when "all ballots are cast" or when "all results are announced".

On Wednesday, EC secretary-general Jarungvith Phumma said that while the election date has yet to be set, poll commissioners had agreed that the resulting endorsement should be done by the May 9 deadline to avoid the risk of violating the charter, which could nullify the election. This is the first time the EC has given its stance on the issue.

According to political observers, if the EC thinks the 150-day deadline does include the endorsement of poll results, the election date is likely to be set for March 10.

By law, the EC would be obligated to endorse the results within 60 days after the election date.

In Thailand, elections are always held on a Sunday. Counting back 60 days from May 9, March 10 emerges as the election date, which is a "safe" date for the poll.

The poll results could then be endorsed by May 9. This would comply with the time frame set under the constitution.

The EC can hold the election sooner than March 10, such as on Sunday, March 3, but if it selects this day, the deadline for its announcement of the poll results will fall on May 2, which will be too close to His Majesty the King's coronation ceremonies which will be held between May 4 and 6, some observers argued.

As a result, the most appropriate date for the election based on the latest EC thinking is March 10, said observers.

A source at the EC said that considering the commission will need around 45 days to prepare the election, it should announce the date by Jan 24 if it wants it to be held on March 10.

However, academics noted that if the poll is held on March 24, the EC will have less than 60 days to endorse at least 95% of the poll results. Under the constitution, parliament will convene within 15 days of at least 95% of the poll results being announced.

Jade Donavanik, chairman of the Faculty of Law College of Asian Scholars, said Thursday that the EC will have only 47 days to endorse the results based on the March 24 poll date.

In light of this, the EC may have little time to investigate election law violation cases and issue yellow or red cards to election candidates and poll winners who violate the poll regulations.

He also suggested the EC seek a Constitutional Court ruling on whether the 150-day time frame only refers to the voting process, or if it also includes the endorsement of poll results.

Udom Rathamarit, a former CDC spokesman, echoed the view, saying the CDC intended to give the EC 60 days, which is enough time to deal with natural disasters and disruptions to the poll, in addition to poll fraud investigations.

If the EC has less than 60 days, the agency will not be able to organise poll reruns as a results of those incidents, Mr Udom said.

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