BANGKOK – Pro-election activists are demanding that a general election should take place no later than March 10 to avoid a possible violation of the 150-day deadline.
They are also threatening to step up the pressure by holding a rally at Democracy Monument this Saturday if a royal decree announcing the election is not published the day before.
Nuttaa Mahattana, a key member of an anti-coup group calling itself People Who Want Elections, said that to prevent the 150-day controversy from erupting, the general election should take place no later than March 10, referring to a constitutional requirement that the polls must be held within 150 days of the enforcement of the last of the 10 organic laws.
Opinions are already divided over the specifics of the 150-day time frame with the government and charter writers saying it does not include the endorsement of the election results and the regime’s critics arguing that it covers the entire process.
Ms Nuttaa said several parties concerned agree the 150-day rule should include the announcement of the poll outcome, so it will be in the public’s best interest if the entire election process is completed within 150 days.
She said the public’s concerns about further delays will be allayed if a royal decree declaring the election is published in the Royal Gazette and urged the government to clarify the issue.
The royal decree was expected to be published on Jan 2 so that an election on Feb 24, as previously expected, would be possible.
The group members including Ms Nuttaa, Parit Chiwarak, and Sirawith “Ja New” Seritiwat Sunday held a protest at Ratchaprasong intersection and laid wreaths to mourn the postponement of the Feb 24 poll. Their activities were closely monitored by police.
Meanwhile, Thai Raksa Chart heavyweight Chaturon Chaisang lashed out at army commander Apirat Kongsompong for accusing people campaigning against the delay of being “troublemakers”.
Mr Chaturon said that freedom of expression is a civil right and that as long as the law is not broken those who exercise free speech are not making trouble.
Army spokesman Winthai Suvaree defended Gen Apirat’s remark, saying the army chief was concerned about the atmosphere as the nation prepares for the King’s coronation events on May 4-6.
“Most of the Thai public accepts the news about the election with understanding and they watch authorities concerned do their jobs. They are ready to create a joyful atmosphere for this most important event while [concerned parties] make preparations for the polls in line with the constitution,” he said.
Panthongtae “Oak” Shinawatra and the Pheu Thai Party cried foul after the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) was granted permission to use an international conference venue in Chiang Rai to recruit members while the Pheu Thai Party’s request to use a local stadium in Phayao for a similar event was rejected.
Mr Panthongtae took to Twitter to accuse the government of double standards and warned the election would be a contest between the people and the state.
In response, Cap Thammanat Prompao, chief of the PPRP’s strategic committee in the North, said the convention centre was a commercial venue and the party had done nothing wrong in renting it for their event.
Another PPRP member, who asked not to be named, said Phayao’s Provincial Administrative Organisation had initially allowed Pheu Thai to use the stadium but the decision was changed after a severe downpour before the event led to concerns that the football field might be damaged if a large number of people convened on the grass.
“They have been postponing the election over and over since 2014,” complained a 51-year-old female protester. “The election must be held before the coronation.”
Police did not block the demonstration, but did not allow the protesters to use a public address systems.
In Chiang Mai, about 20 people protested at City Hall under the watchful eyes of police, who also did not interfere.
A 62-year-old retired teacher who said his name was Boonrod, said income disparities have widened under the current government. “Only rich people get benefits from the current government’s policies,” he said.
Protests were also held in other provinces including Chiang Rai, Nakhon Pathom, Kohn Kaen, and Ubon Ratchathani.
The government of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has delayed the vote six times since it first promised elections in 2015.