After passing major milestones such as the charter referendum, and with the general election starting to take shape, despite doubts about when it will take place exactly, Thailand will see the finale of the junta’s road map to its self-proclaimed “true democracy” this year.
While the major theme is to change politics for the better, the political scene seems to have a mind of its own and the year ahead is unlikely to see fundamental changes.
Critics have suggested there are prospects for mainstream politics to still be stuck in the whirlpool of organic-law writing for at least 10 more months and for the election promised for this year to grow more unlikely.
Late last year, the Constitution Drafting Commission (CDC) introduced drafts of the organic laws on political parties and the Election Commission (EC), but Satithorn Thananithichot, a researcher at the King Prajadhipok’s Institute, has pointed out that the drafts would not be the finalised versions until passed by the National Legislative Assembly (NLA).
When they are tabled at the assembly, heated debate can be expected.
The EC law, for instance, will be scrutinised by both the commissioners and the National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA), as their demands were hardly satisfied by the CDC, he said.
Nikorn Chamnong, a key member of the Chart Thai Pattana Party and a member of the NRSA, said he saw the issue differently.
He did not think lawmakers would make controversial changes to the EC or political party laws, but anticipated fierce debate on the Senate law.
“Because the Senate is equivalent to the NLA, the lawmakers are inevitably intertwined with the issue. So, we can expect criticism both in and outside the chamber,” he said.
The timetable could be tight, so the promised election could be held next year, Nikorn added.
“There are two determining milestones this year – one at the beginning and the other at the end – the promulgation of the new constitution and the election.
“If the election can’t take place, at least the government should be clear about the date when it will. Otherwise, it will face heavy criticism.”
Political critic Sukhum Nualsakul agreed that the year ahead could see an election delay and the same dull picture as in the past couple of years.
That is, politics will remain rather inactive despite politicians’ call for a relaxation of controls on political activity, because people are satisfied with the status quo, Sukhum said.
“But by status quo, I don’t mean people are happy with the National Council for Peace and Order per se. I mean they are content with this ostensible peace and order. That partly justifies to the government to keep a tight grip.”
Satithorn and Nikorn, however, share the view that as soon as the party law is enacted, politicians will be more vigorously active.
Satithorn said it was impossible to expect politicians to become different persons from who they were two three years ago, despite the strong calls for reform.
Rather, the change will be the shuffling of players among parties because of the new election rules, he said. “To gain better bargaining power, some will move from bigger parties to the medium-sized parties,” he said.
Veteran politician Nikorn said he thought it was too soon to predict how the political milieu would be reorganised.
“We’ll have to see a clearer version of the laws involving the election rules and the changes in the constituency first.
“Also, this year, we also have to look at the final result of the lawsuits,” he said, referring to the lawsuit against Pheu Thai Party head Yingluck Shinawatra concerning the rice subsidy scheme.