PRESSURE MOUNTS ON PRAYUT OVER POSSIBLE POLL POSTPONEMENT LINKED TO DRAFT BILL
THE COMMITTEE vetting the MPs election bill doubled down yesterday on its controversial decision to delay enforcing the law for an additional three months after it is promulgated.
In affirming the decision, the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) committee said the junta order freezing political parties, which is still in force, could leave politicians too little time to prepare for the next election.
Commentators have predicted that the postponement will result in delaying the next election until February 2019, rather than it being held in November this year as was repeatedly promised by Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha.
Committee spokesman Taweesak Suthakawatin said at a press conference yesterday that last month’s order by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) dictating that existing political parties must wait until April before updating their membership registration records had made the amendment to the MPs election bill necessary.
Political parties would not be able to make pre-election arrangements under the law in time, he said.
The committee decided it therefore needed to delay the deadline for 90 additional days, Taweesak said.
The Constitution stipulates that the election should be held within 150 days after all four organic laws related to various aspects of the election are passed.
The four laws are considered essential for the election and the MPs law is the last of the four.
NLA members were reportedly concerned that if the MPs election law is enforced immediately, the clock on the 150-day deadline would start ticking and there would not be sufficient time for political parties to work on the changes required by the new laws, Taweesak said.
The complication is largely because the NCPO has refused to lift the ban on political activities, despite the political parties law promulgation in early October. Instead, the NCPO set a new timetable starting in March and April when the end of the so-called “road map” to the election will be fast approaching.
The same order also said the NCPO should consider lifting the ban and work with political parties and groups in the run-up to the election after all four laws are promulgated.
This led to uncertainty over when exactly political parties could legally hold meetings, Taweesak said.
Some legislators had even proposed a 120-day delay, as they worried 90 days would be insufficient, he said. They did not want any more amendments after the law is already in effect, he added.
However, some legislators disagreed with the proposed extension. They said the law should become effective on the day after it is promulgated in the Royal Gazette, as written in the original draft.
The final decision would only come when the bill was deliberated in the NLA on Thursday, Taweesak said.
NLA members also did not want the complication to lead to the use of Prayut’s absolute powers under Article 44 in his capacity as NCPO chief, he said, which would draw more criticism.
’There’s no order’
Asked why the NLA members did not advise the NCPO to lift its ban on political activities, Taweesak said it was beyond their authority.
A total of 10 organic bills have been written and passed by the Constitution Drafting Commission and the NLA.
The MPs election bill is the only bill regarding which the vetting committee had to hold a press conference to explain to the public the stipulation to postpone the enforcement.
Despite such a controversial amendment, Taweesak said the work of the vetting committee had been straightforward.
Meanwhile, Prayut yesterday dismissed the perception that the ruling junta had been behind the expected NLA delay.
When asked to comment on the matter, Prayut said briefly: “There’s no order.”
He appeared to have been saying that there had not been interference by his government or the NCPO.
The prime minister then walked away, avoiding more questions from reporters.
At the time, he was presiding over a seminar for senior executives titled “One Country, One Team” at the Impact Muang Thong Thani conference centre in Nonthaburi.
In a related development, anti-corruption activist Srisuwan Janya yesterday filed a petition with Prayut, asking him to exercise his powers to suspend the NLA’s authority regarding the controversial MPs bill.
Srisuwan said Prayut must send a signal to the NLA to stop proceeding with the amendment, because it directly affected his credibility.
Meanwhile, Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva yesterday called on the ruling junta and NLA to clearly explain how the public would benefit from a delay in the next election.
He said there should be a sufficiently clear reason for the general election to be further delayed, not just the preference of the NCPO and NLA.
“If the election delay is done with personal or political benefits in mind, that’s very dangerous,” he said.
“Without a clear reason how the election delay will benefit the public, there will be a hundred more questions from the public,” Abhisit said.
When asked who would benefit from the proposed 90-day stay of the enforcement of the MP election law, Abhisit said calls for a delay had come from people planning to set up new political parties.
“The NCPO and the NLA also can stay longer as a result,” he added.
The Democrat leader, who is a former prime minister, said he had learned about the 90-day postponement two weeks ago. He said that he had been tipped off by someone with knowledge about the matter.
“People who want the election to be delayed certainly wanted to find a way for the law’s enforcement to be postponed. Finally they found this way,” he said.