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NCPO grabs local admin powers

Appointed representatives to fill vacancies in local bodies; bureaucrats to get preference

The ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has made another major move to tighten control on the political base of parties by suspending elections to local administrative bodies and replacing them with appointed representatives. The move is seen as an attempt to curb the influence of political parties over grass-roots people.

NCPO announcements late on Tuesday said no local elections would be held until further notice even when political posts become vacant. The junta has now decided to fill vacant seats by a process of selection and will require that at least two-thirds of local council members be either current or former senior bureaucrats.

However, Chulalongkorn University's lecturer Trakul Meechai said getting bureaucrats to run local administration and councils is equivalent to destroying the system of de-centralisation, which has been established since 1997. The 2006 coup did not make any changes to the local administration structure, he pointed out, adding that this move was weakening the foundations of democracy at the local level.

"Hopefully, the order will be lifted when the country has a provisional charter," he said.

These rules also apply to the Bangkok Council, 61 members of which will be completing their term next month. If more than half of a local council's elected posts become vacant, the remaining members are required to step down to pave the way for appointed councillors.

Election Commissioner Somchai Srisuthiyakorn said he believes the NCPO has put off the elections to deal with the country's current situation. "If elections are held, political rallies and activities will automatically resume, with some political groups trying to seize local political power," he said yesterday.

Thailand had been struggling with political turmoil for several years until the NCPO intervened. After staging a coup on May 22, the junta has vowed to end the political crisis and "return happiness to Thais".

Somchai said the NCPO had reserved many seats in local administrative bodies for bureaucrats, both former and current, possibly because it believes these officials have solid knowledge and abilities judging from their high rank. For the Bangkok Council, two-thirds of its members must hold or have held a C10-level post or above. For other local administrative councils, two-thirds of members must hold or have held a C8-level post or above.

Provincial governors will preside over selection committees.

Local administrative bodies and councils are widely known as the support base of all political parties, as local politicians use these bodies as a ladder to enter the national assembly.

Somchai said it would not be tough to fill the local administrative bodies with high-ranking government officials, but was concerned that these bureaucrats would fail to see things from the people's perspective. "They might be accustomed to the bureaucratic style," he said.

Trisit Siriwan, a Bangkok councillor whose term will expire next month, said local politicians were usually close to constituents and very likely understood people better. "So I hope appointed councillors are allowed to work for just a year or two," he said.

Thawil Praisont, a legal expert of the Democrat Party, said appointed councillors could not be considered representatives of the people. "But I understand we are now in a special situation," he said.


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