Monday review: calls for elections louder and louder

While the junta seeks reasons to remain in power, the public, politicians and even the anti-election protesters from 2014 are increasing their demands for elections.
 
The National Council for Peace and Order is once again attempting to delay the country’s democratisation. Late last month, Prayut posed a four-question survey through his weekly televised address. The first and second questions were: “Will the next election lead to ‘good governance?’” and “If not, what should be done?” The questions were interpreted by many as a trial balloon to see how people would react if the military government remained in power. 
 
A recent political poll conducted by the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) showed that many would react negatively. Though over 30 percent of the respondents worry that the next elections may not result in effective governance, only 11 per cent think that the military should step in. A majority of respondents recommended following normal legal and constitutional procedures.
 
Over the past month, calls for elections have become noticeably louder. A turning point came in late May, when the Democrat Party announced a reconciliation with its former members who defected in 2014 to lead the anti-election movement, the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC). 
 
After meeting with Democrat leaders, the ex-PDRC protesters declared that even they are ready for elections. They also urged the country’s junta-appointed senators to accept the results of the next election, arguing that any party who receives a majority in votes deserves the right to form government and run the country. 
 
“The [Democrat] Party affirms that those who get a majority of votes in parliament should form the government… [We] don’t want the see senators violate the people’s wishes because that could lead to future political conflict,” argued Thaworn Seniam, a former PDRC leader. “I want the people to give the final answer.”
 
It’s not just politicians who are becoming impatient. Bangkok University recently published a poll revealing that more than 50 per cent of respondents are “feeling alert and want elections as soon as possible.” A similar poll last year found only 36.22 per cent of respondents wanted elections, while one run by Suan Dusit University in 2014 found that only 24.89 per cent were in favour of elections as soon as possible.  
 
Since the coup in 2014, the NCPO has repeatedly pushed back the date of the next election. Four days after the coup, the junta head promised that the country would return to democracy and have an elected government by July 2015. But in July 2015, elections were postponed after the first junta-written draft constitution was rejected by the junta-appointed National Reform Council.  
 
A new election date was scheduled after the junta’s second draft charter passed a referendum in August 2016. According to the junta’s “roadmap to democracy,” elections were supposed be held in late 2017 after a royal endorsement of the charter scheduled for October 2016.  
 
But roadmaps are not timetables and the schedule was briefly disrupted by the death of King Rama IX on 13 October. The mourning period put off the question of elections for a month until the junta finally handed the draft charter to the new King on 9 November.
 
More delay was to come, however, after the new King demanded changes to the charter. After the requested amendments and many months, King Vajiralongkorn finally endorsed the draft charter on 6 April 2017. 
 
The junta’s lawmakers now had 10 months to approve four organic laws related to elections, which revolve around electing members of the lower house, the selection of senators, the election commission, and political parties. If any law is rejected, the election date will be postponed even further. 
 
If the NCPO keeps its promises, elections should be held within five months after the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly approves the organic laws. 
 
That all means that the next election should be held in July 2018. 
 
But there is no guarantee the election will not be postponed again, particularly since one of the reasons used to justify the junta’s coup in 2014 was the maintenance of “peace and order”. Indeed, after the recent bombing at Phramongkutklao Hospital, junta head Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha warned that such violence could postpone the election even further.  
 
“I’m not trying to change anything. But what I want people to be most concerned about is that if the country remains like this -- bombings, use of war weapons and conflicts within society -- we will be stuck in the same problem. So how can we hold an election?” Gen Prayut said.
 
 
A reunion between PDRC leaders and Democrat leader (Photo from MThai)