BANGKOK – Hundreds of protesters staged a rare demonstration Tuesday in military-ruled Thailand, demanding that there be no further delays in holding elections, which were expected next month but have been put in doubt.
The polls had seemed set for Feb. 24, but that date may slip, apparently because of the coronation of King Maha Vajiralongkorn on May 4. Critics of the military government, which seized power in 2014, wonder if it is using the recently announced coronation date as an excuse to push back the elections.
A key announcement expected last week that would have confirmed the polling day did not happen, sowing widespread confusion and doubts that the government and the election commission have so far failed to clear up.
The peaceful protesters descended with little advance notice on a busy intersection in Bangkok’s commercial district. Chanting, banging drums and waving placards, they demanded the poll go ahead on time.
“I am here to demand that the government does not delay the election,” said 74-year-old protester Ornapa Ngamban. “If they keep delaying, I will send them to a hospital for treatment because there is something wrong with them. Don’t delay the election!”
Until recently, political gatherings of more than five people were illegal and participants liable for arrest. On Tuesday, police kept a discreet distance and did not intervene.
The government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has a long record of “promising elections“, but then finding reasons to delay. Many opponents believe the current confusion is a deliberate attempt to stall until he is sure that pro-military parties can win enough seats to return him as prime minister.
“It’s about keeping up the pressure,” said protest co-leader and prominent pro-democracy activist Nuttaa Mahattana. “It’s about securing the election. Otherwise we have no way to fight any more for the country to return to democracy.”
The venue of the protest — Bangkok’s Ratchaprasong intersection — has great symbolism for anti-military protesters.
It was the site of a chaotic months-long mass camp-out by thousands of demonstrators in 2010 that brought prolonged disruption to the city. The protest by demonstrators known as Red Shirts who said they were seeking democratic rule was crushed by an army assault in May of that year that left around 50 people dead.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s Election Promises
General elections are expected in Thailand between 24 February and 9 May 2019. Under the 2017 constitution, elections must be held within 150 days after the relevant electoral law came into effect on 10 December 2018. The date is yet to be set by the Election Commission.
Earlier, the Bangkok Post had predicted that the likelihood of elections being held in November 2018, the date previously promised, was “increasingly remote”. Civil rights, including the right to vote, were suspended indefinitely following the military coup in May 2014.
The military government in 2014 promised to hold elections in 2015, but later postponed them. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha told the United Nation’s General Assembly in September 2016 that elections would be held by late–2017.
Then, during a 2017 visit to the White House, Prayut promised elections in 2018. In October 2017, he promised elections for November 2018.
However, in January 2018, the enforcement of a bill governing the election of MPs was postponed by the National Legislative Assembly for 90 days, which delays elections until February–March 2019.
The bill is one of four needed to hold a general election. The constitution mandates that elections be held within 150 days after all necessary electoral laws take effect. Delayed enforcement of any of the laws pushes back the election.
On 3 January 2019, Wissanu Krea-ngam told that the election will be delayed.
The NCPO’s frequent delays of a general election prompted a Bangkok Post writer to observe that, “…[the regime is] up to what everyone had figured out a year or more ago—perpetual rule with Gen Prayut at the head of it all.