January 16, 2014 00:00
By ATTAYUTH BOOTSRIPOOM
The question of whether the February 2 election should be postponed lingers on. And this has led to another question: If the poll has to be postponed, who will do it and by what legal means?
The Election Commission (EC) has made it clear it wants the election to be postponed. In mid-December, less than a week after the five election commissioners assumed their office, they suggested the government put off the election. Some EC members also threatened to “exercise their individual rights” in making some decisions, which led to speculation they might resign their seats, which would lead to a vacuum. However, that has not taken place so far.
Later, the registration of election candidates in Bangkok and the provinces was disrupted by protesters. The EC refused to change the venues despite the anticipated interference. As a result, many constituencies in the South have no election candidates. Instead, it used this as an argument to seek an election postponement again.
The Constitution states that the 500-seat House of Representatives is deemed operational only when the elected number of MPs reaches 95 per cent of the total, or 475.
The Auditor General’s Office suggested a postponement on grounds that the Bt3.8 billion to be spent on holding the February 2 election would be wasted as the likelihood was high of another election being organised shortly afterwards.
The EC once again found a new excuse to seek postponement of the election. It suggested a new royal decree for the election be issued, but the agency failed to identify any other legal means that would allow a new election to be called.
When asked about this matter, the election commissioners declined to answer and instead sought a meeting between the caretaker prime minister and the EC chairman.
Why is the EC so eager to postpone the election when, according to the Constitution, the agency’s main duty is to hold elections in a free and fair manner despite obstacles?
Some former members of the EC expressed their disagreement at the current election commissioners’ stance, pointing out that the agency should be politically neutral and focus on the job of holding elections. But it appeared some EC members did not care much about dealing with the obstacles to holding the next election and instead set their sights firmly on an election postponement.
By focusing too much on the political situation, the election commissioners’ neutrality has been questioned. Some former EC members suggested that if they really wanted the election to be postponed, at least three of the current election commissioners should simply resign their seats to make the election agency inoperable. As all five election commissioners have remained in their seats, critics suspect a hidden agenda.
The government appears unwilling to simply fall into the EC’s trap. It is aware that by standing still over this matter, it would end up being accused of blocking attempts for a way out of the problem. So the government came up with the idea of holding a discussion between the EC, the government, political parties and other relevant agencies.
The intended goal was for the EC to explain its reasons for election postponement and legal facts supporting its call. It appears the government was convinced there were no laws that allowed postponement and that the other parties taking part in the government-organised meeting would end up criticising the EC and calling for the election to go ahead as planned.
The EC responded by refusing to take part in the meeting. It instead invited caretaker PM Yingluck Shinawatra to join a smaller group meeting. The argument was that this matter should only be discussed among the parties empowered to take action on the matter.
It appears the people who want the election to go ahead are fighting against not only the People’s Democratic Reform Committee, whose “Bangkok shutdown” rally has attracted several thousand participants. Behind the PDRC is the towering shadow of the authority responsible for holding elections.