THE JUNTA’S promised road map to democracy has arrived at a crucial stage as the completion of the organic laws draws near and the junta head General Prayut Chan-o-cha has promised the world’s superpower, the United States, that an election will take place in late 2018. But the road remains bumpy and difficult, and uncertainty remains.
When it toppled an elected government and took power in 2014 after a long-running street demonstration, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) vowed to return happiness to the people and to return the country to a genuine democracy following its road map. The road map has since been at the heart of the regime and its promise, to the Thai people and to the world, to re-establish civilian rule. But somehow, this plan has become dynamic and has been extended on several occasions.
The road map has three major phases, according to the junta. First, a new Constitution had to be written. It had to have mechanisms to ensure good governance, and promise graft-fighting and lasting peace. The specifications resulted in two rounds of writing. The first one was shot down for opening the way to set up a so-called crisis committee that could overrule the elected government. Hence, the first phase of the road map was stretched out to allow a second round of charter writing.
The whole process of coming up with the new Constitution took three years in total before the supreme law could finally be promulgated.
After the imposition of the new charter in April, the second phase of the road map began. The Constitution set down that 10 organic laws should be written within 240 days to prepare for the last phase: the election.
By law, an election must be held 150 days after the promulgation of the four organic laws – on the Senate, MPs, political parties and the Election Commission (EC). The Constitution Drafting Commission (CDC), designated by the NCPO, promised to speed up its work to make sure the four laws were in effect as soon as possible so the election could be held. The chief charter writer even said that it should not take the whole 240 days. But after all, it did. The organic laws on the Senate and MPs were the last of the 10 submitted to the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) late last month. The regime reasoned that they had to be in line with the EC and the political parties laws, which were held up for revisions in the NLA for two months.
In the past year, politics has centred around these pieces of legislation and their complications. The deadline of 240 days was reached in early December. And so, under the road map promised by the junta, the highly anticipated election and the return to democratic rule should be just around the corner. But the current circumstances are suggesting otherwise and uncertainty remains. Although the organic laws governing political parties and the EC law are already in effect, the junta has kept stalling and it will not allow political parties to make arrangements following the new regulations. Political activities could destroy the peace, so the junta says.
As pressure has been growing amid the enduring political ban, the junta decided to exercise its absolute power under Article 44 to issue an order to reschedule everything. The political party law lays out that parties should have completed all their arrangements and be ready to campaign for an election by the middle of next year. But, under the new timetable set by the NCPO, that will be when the parties can kickstart their activities. In addition, it now seems that the last two bills – on the Senate and the MPs – and might be stalled, making it more difficult to keep the previous schedule.
The last phase of the road map – the election promised for November – hence seems to be under a cloud.