BANGKOK – Thailand’s two major political parties — the Democrats and Pheu Thai — will not attend the pre-election dialogue with the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) on Friday, a move which has irked Prime Minister and regime leader Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha.
Reacting to news reports that certain parties were opting out of the meeting at the Army Club, Gen Prayut said their absence signifies that they do not accept the rules.
He also likened the scenario to a boxing match in which the boxers refused to hear the regulations from a referee, saying the match would be cancelled.
“If parties don’t show up, it means they reject the rules. When the boxers step into the ring, they are summoned by a referee to hear the rules. If they don’t come, the match is off,” he said.
Gen Prayut, in his capacity as the NCPO chief, will chair a meeting with the so-called five rivers to discuss the lifting of the political ban ahead of the general election tentatively scheduled in February of next year.
The NCPO at present has only relaxed the ban, allowing parties to hold meetings to select party executives, recruit members, give opinions on the demarcation of constituencies, and conduct primary votes to choose poll candidates.
However, the regime still maintains the ban on public gatherings of more than five people and political campaigning.
Friday’s meeting, to be chaired by Gen Prayut, is scheduled before the last of the 10 organic laws — the elections of MPs — takes effect next week.
The law, which was published in Royal Gazette in September, has a waiting period of 90 days.
Expected to attend the meeting are representatives from the government, the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), and the Election Commission (EC).
The meeting is scheduled to take place at the Army Club on Vibhavadi Rangsit Road.
Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said Thursday the date for the next general election should be made more clear following Friday’s meeting as he shrugged off concerns about the boycott by major political parties.
He said the government will directly inform the participants of the meeting about the next steps towards the election process.
Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon will take questions about security and peace-keeping, while the EC representatives will address questions concerning election-related regulations, he said.
Mr Wissanu said representatives from parties are allowed to share opinions and make suggestions during the meeting. While certain issues may require their consent, there is no need to sign an agreement, he noted.
He insisted that the absence of parties from the meeting will not affect the NCPO’s decision about when to remove the political ban.
“The NCPO has things to do whether or not this meeting takes place. But I can assure you there’ll be some big news,” he said.
Asked when parties can unveil their choice of prime ministerial candidates, he said under the law governing elections of MPs, parties are required to submit their prime minister candidates before the election candidacy registration closes.
Meanwhile, NCPO deputy spokeswoman Col Sirichan Ngathong said a total of 105 parties have been invited to attend the meeting and they are expected to take part to ensure a smooth and peaceful election.
She said the meeting is intended for all stakeholders and that the NCPO was looking forward to hearing their suggestions. She also warned those who decide not to join to refrain from criticising.
“If they don’t join, those who don’t know the details of the meeting discussions should refrain from making criticism. This is a matter of manner,” Col Sirichan said.
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit said Thursday he saw no reason why political parties would not join the meeting in which the NCPO will address their questions.
Asked about the planned boycott by major parties like the Democrat and the Pheu Thai, Gen Prawit said they simply tried to make a fuss but it would not have any impacts.
Meanwhile, Democrat spokesman Thana Chiravinij said the party decided not to join the meeting in part because political parties were not allowed to voice opinions.
According to Mr Thana, Gen Prayut has also demonstrated an inappropriate attitude and lacked respect for the people.
Moreover, he wore three hats: the prime minister, the NCPO chief, and the potential candidate for the prime minister.
By Wassana Nanuam
The Bangkok Post