Almost three years after the 2014 coup, Thailand’s constitution was finally promulgated last week. While the charter spells out a timeframe for legislation to pave the way for elections, the exact date of the poll has not been decided by the ruling junta government.
The Nation Multimedia Group’s digital journalist Suthichai Yoon recently talked with Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva in a Facebook Live interview about political uncertainties and his party’s plans.
As the charter is now in effect and the [political] road map is now proceeding, do you and Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha have the same version of the road map?
To me, the National Council for Peace and Order’s (NCPO) roadmap was relatively flexible, given that the 2014 interim charter went through some amendments. While Prayut always says that the road map has always remained the same, the timeline has occasionally shifted. The first shift was when the first charter draft was rejected in 2015, and the second time was when the NCPO wanted to hold a referendum to approve the charter.
The implementation of the charter can ensure certainty to some extent. But still, the charter may be amended. Even if not, the timeframe is still unspecified. For instance, while the charter says that the Constitution Drafting Commission (CDC) must forward 10 essential organic laws within 240 days to the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), the drafters, in fact, can do so faster than that.
For instance, two organic law drafts on political parties and the Election Commission (EC) will be forwarded to the NLA on April 18, to be followed by another drafts on the Upper House and Lower House. Once the four laws are enacted, elections must be held within 150 days.
There are concerns that the charter seems to skip some likely scenarios, such as what happens if the NLA rejects those organic law drafts.
That’s one of related procedures this charter doesn’t talk about. The CDC itself, however, is quite clear on the timeline on drafting organic laws. The CDC chairman Meechai Ruchupan said that to get elections started, political parties and the EC should be ready. He also said that those two need time to adjust to the new laws.
From your point of view, how much could the road map be delayed at most?
Nobody knows. But I believe that the government wants everything to go smoothly. The charter’s implementation, for instance, renders the Thai political landscape more clear to foreign eyes. Some Western countries may have restricted relations with Thailand since the coup. However, at the end of the day, their geopolitics and trade ties with us can’t be cut. Another concern is when the parties will be allowed to move. I think that once the organic law on political parties is in place, we are obliged to hold a meeting. How could the NCPO ban us then? To me, nobody wants to take to the public stage and make loud speeches now. No one wants to break public sentiment during the mourning to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
There is also speculation on how the next elected government will look. Many feel it could be a coalition government that would allow military power to stay in one way or another.
Everything is possible. We are convinced by the charter’s stipulations that a single party could hardly gain a parliamentary majority. There could consequently be negotiations that lead to the selection of the PM. The atmosphere will change once the country enters election mode and we have to closely watch movements of each party then.
But I look further beyond the election date. I focus on how the country’s problems can be solved, especially in regards to disappearing economic growth and equality. This government can sustain the economy for now but I don’t expect them to free the country from economic struggles.
The current government is trying to sort out equality via reforms but, so far, we don’t see any tangible outcomes.
The National Reform Steering Assembly does have reform ideas but they might contrast with what society thinks. Their thoughts on local administration are opposite to what reforms ought to be, while the government’s moves on education are criticised for being outdated. This stems from the public’s feelings that the government does not provides them with answers.
How would the Democrat Party propose to solve those problems?
Frankly speaking, people focus on how their children will be able to use English rather than on structural things. Our “English for All” project is one tangible policy.
Another is the economy and the well-being of people, for example, how we could increase the bargaining power of farmers. I believe populism isn’t the only solution to that.
We may have weak spots regarding political strongholds. However, after the absence of political clashes, I have had some talks with the local residents in the North and Northeast. I expect more understanding could make them confident in us.
What about foreign policy? Do you think that political parties should do more? My observation says that Thai people are really keen on foreign affairs in this social media era.
Yes, there is a saying that “all politics is local”. Foreign policies, while progressing continually, should be noted by all parties. They must be able to address Thailand’s stance and strategy in the global arena.
This could be one agenda on party debates and a handy application like Facebook Live can make it all more accessible.