Prayut prepares dissolution decree
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Prayut prepares dissolution decree

Pending royal endorsement, election race will be ready to kick off soon

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said on Friday he had prepared a decree seeking to dissolve parliament ahead of an election.

The decree would require approval of His Majesty the King and would take effect once published in the Royal Gazette. An election must take place 45-60 days after dissolution.

Many online reports quickly concluded that the House dissolution would take place on Monday but Gen Prayut was non-committal.

“I have prepared (the decree), we have to wait. We have to wait for the announcement in the Royal Gazette,” he told reporters while on a campaign-style visit to Chiang Mai.

Asked when this would be, he said: “We have to wait, wait for the announcement.”

The Election Commission, which has just published a new map of the country's 400 constituencies, earlier pencilled in polling for May 7 but a final date is yet to be confirmed. 

Gen Prayut, who has been in charge since staging a coup against the government of Yingluck Shinawatra in May 2014, will be running under the banner of the new United Thai Nation (UTN) party.

While UTN is expected to win only a modest number of seats, Gen Prayut would once more be a prime ministerial candidate if the party ends up in a government coalition.

However, he could only serve for two years before reaching the limit of eight years from the date the current Constitution was proclaimed in 2017, according to an earlier ruling by the Constitutional Court.

The opposition Pheu Thai Party is widely expected to win the most seats in the coming poll. It says it is aiming for a landslide — as many as 310 seats — as it strives to push forward its populist policies.

The other top contender is the Palang Pracharath Party, currently the main party in the coalition government. Its prime ministerial candidate, 77-year-old Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, is now being portrayed as a champion of democracy through lengthy ghostwritten articles posted in his name on Facebook.

“This election will be a battle of ideology that will determine whether Thailand will stay on the side of conservatism or sway more to the liberal side,” Yuttaporn Issarachai, a political scientist at Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University, told Bloomberg.

“But the military is so deeply rooted in Thai politics that it would take a super landslide for the opposition to bring about military reform, which is unlikely to happen.” 

There’s also the wild card of at least 3 million first-time voters, who make up more than 5% of those eligible to cast ballots. This group would have come of age during the unprecedented youth protests in 2020 that was demanding Gen Prayut’s resignation and reforms of the monarchy.  

Pre-election surveys project opposition parties to hold an edge over the ruling coalition but the rules are stacked in favour of military-backed groups. That’s because the Constitution gives the 250-member Senate, comprising mostly of establishment allies including more than 100 military and police appointees, the power to vote in the next prime minister until early 2024. 

Gen Prayut is counting on support from this group to keep him ahead in the race to become prime minister. Much of this will depend on how his conservative party performs against Palang Pracharath and the opposition led by Pheu Thai at the polls.

Pheu Thai and its previous incarnations have won every election in the past two decades, but three of their administrations were cut short by judicial rulings or military takeovers.

“I have a strong hope that we can form a government for sure, that’s why we are going ourselves to campaign about a landslide,” said Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the daughter of founder Thaksin Shinawatra, face of the party and one of its three prime ministerial candidates.

Asked about the prospect that her opponents might try to block Pheu Thai from governing, she said, “of course, of course”.

Some senators have already said that they would not vote for a prime ministerial candidate from Pheu Thai even if it has the most seats in the next House.

On Thursday, the Election Commission announced the boundaries of 400 constituencies, with Bangkok having the highest number at 33, followed by 16 constituencies in Nakhon Ratchasima, and 10 each in Chiang Mai and Nakhon Si Thammarat. Five provinces, including Trat and Ranong, have only one seat each.

Based on the new boundaries, Bangkok and 26 provinces in the Central Plains region will have a total of 122 MPs, while 14 provinces in the South will have 60 MPs.

Sixteen provinces in the North will have 37 MPs and provinces in the Northeast will have the largest number, at 133. The eastern region will have 29 MPs and the western region will have 19.

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