Their recent submission of separate petitions asking that the Constitutional Court rule on the legality of the NCPO chief’s recent use of Article 44 to amend the political party law was the only option available for political parties, said Prinya Thaewanarumitkul, the noted law professor from Thammasat University.
In an exclusive interview with The Nation, Prinya discussed the implications of order 53/2560, which on the surface reschedules the administrative work that parties must undertake prior to the next election – but in reality has massive implications for the party system and democracy in Thailand.
Regardless of the words contained in the order, the real effect of the dictat is to put additional burdens on the older parties while creating an advantage for new parties, said Prinya.
The larger the number of members that a party has, the greater the burden they face in meeting the new requirements, he said. And if they were unable to re-register their members before the deadline, the party could find itself being reset. “The order says new parties will not be at a disadvantage, but in fact they will be at an advantage,” said Prinya.
Junta chief General Prayut Chan-o-cha in mid-December issued an Article 44 order aimed at extending some deadlines for political party administrative work that were outlined in the Political Party Act that came into effect in early October.
The Act was not implemented, and parties claimed that this was because the junta had not lifted its ban on political activities. Political parties now have raised concerns over the short period of time given to them to follow stipulations in the order, and fear that they could lose many of their current members.
The order gives current party members only one month to decide whether they will stay with that party or review their political allegiances. Those wishing to maintain their party memberships must personally take action to submit letters confirming that choice to party leaders and pay their membership fees between April 1 and April 30, or they will lose their member status. Political party leaders have said it would be too difficult to organise for all their members to submit their letters in time.
The junta order also gives existing parties just 30 days from May 1-30, instead of the original 90 days as stated in the current law, to update their lists of members with the registrar of political parties.
Two major parties, the Democrat and Pheu Thai parties, recently filed petitions asking the court to rule whether the order violated the charter. Prinya said it’s now up to the court to decide whether it will choose to take up the petitions and rule on it. He believes that it should do so. A ruling should clarify what is an acceptable exercise of power under Article 44, which was meant to become obsolete when the interim charter was replaced but instead survived when it was added to the new charter.
Prinya said that without the new charter, the use of Article 44 could not be challenged because it was absolute and legitimate. But with the interim charter, which gave birth to Article 44, now dismissed, the court should take up the case and rule to set a standard on the issue. However, Prinya ventured that it was unlikely that Article 44 would be seen as violating the charter on the basis that the power had not been accommodated under Article 265 of the new charter.
Prinya’s view is the order had a negative impact on political party administrative work. It was probably not possible for all party members to verify and confirm their status and for the party to complete all required detailed paperwork as required by the order.
The court, he said, would most likely consider imposing remedies so that the practical realities are brought into alignment with the Constitution.
At the very least, he said the court would carefully consider the petitions and rule on certain clauses that they deem as contradicting the charter.
Junta chief Prayut, meanwhile, has not ruled out the possibility of him entering or engaging in politics in the future. In fact, he has said that he is now a politician and a former military man. If he decided to enter politics, recent developments such as the order could be seen as paving the way to that point, said Prinya.
He said such a move would have a negative impact on the country’s future politics, further deepening conflict and division.
The resulting conflict would put the junta right in the middle of the game, instead of acting as a referee forging reconciliation as was its first vow upon seizing power in 2014.
Prinya had a warning for the junta: do not instigate conflict. “The junta government is at a point of low credibility, so don’t push things that put pressure on yourself,” is his message to the junta.