UNCERTAIN THAT Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s promise of an election by February of next year will be kept, critics said yesterday they remained hopeful it would be the last delay for the frequently postponed poll.
Prayut’s assurance on Tuesday was the fourth such promise since his government came to power in 2014.
His deputy and Defence Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan, meanwhile, held firm that there would not be further delays.
“Authorities will take care of the situation. The election will certainly come. I don’t see why they [activists] would have to hold assemblies to call for an election,” Prawit said yesterday.
Anon Nampa, a key activist in the Democracy Restoration Group, said Prayut’s promise would not stop the group from demanding an election this year, as they had lost faith in him.
“We won’t take Prayut’s words seriously. It’s still unclear if an election will be held. For us, it will be clear only when the election date is announced in a royal decree,” he said.
Key Pheu Thai Party member Phongthep Thepkanjana was also not convinced yesterday by the premier’s promise, saying he would adhere only to the timeline stipulated in the Constitution.
While current legal mechanisms allow an election between September and next February, Phongthep said he believed an election should be organised this year so relevant procedures could be finished by February.
“The key is that the National Council for Peace and Order should not try to overpower or obstruct the charter’s stipulations,” he said.
Democrat Party deputy leader Ong-art Klampaiboon was also cautious about Prayut’s most recent promise.
“If Prayut is determined to hold an election, it should be his last promise. The junta-appointed bodies should also manage to strictly follow this latest road map,” he said. “Our party is ready to go by this road map to election.”
Chulalongkorn University political lecturer Siripan Nogsuan Sawasdee said she believed there was still not a guarantee about the road map as long as the remaining organic law drafts remained unfinished and the new election commissioners had not been selected.
“Judging from the circumstances of Prayut’s previous promises, this promise could be made to lessen political pressure rather than to seriously set a date for an election,” she said.
Stanley Kang, chairman of the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce in Thailand, said he was not surprised the general election could not take place this year.
“It is in line with our previous expectations that an election would be held in the first quarter next year,” Kang said.
He added that the foreign investor community still believed that a general election would happen after the organic laws passed the National Legislative Assembly.
“What we are concerned about is the slow pace of deregulation, government efficiency, the slow implementation of e-government and red tape for work-permit procedures,” he said.
The European Union, which has resumed political contacts with Thailand partly because of Prayut’s earlier promise of an election this November, reiterated the importance attached to the premier’s earlier stance.
“The EU position was expressed by the foreign ministers of all EU member states at their meeting in December 2017. Together, they reaffirmed the importance the EU attaches to relations with Thailand and welcomed the October 2017 statement by the prime minister on election timelines,” reads a statement from the EU delegation to Thailand.
“They [EU foreign ministers] also reiterated that the EU will continue to follow the situation in Thailand closely as a basis for our policy, with particular emphasis on the lifting of restrictions on political activities and freedom of assembly, the holding of credible and inclusive elections, and the installation of a democratically elected civilian government,” it added.
The United States Embassy in Bangkok yesterday also reiterated that it looked forward to Thailand’s return to a democratic government via free and fair elections as soon as possible.