Delaying general election will put more pressure on Thai junta

Delaying general election will put more pressure on Thai junta
Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha

There has been growing anxiety about the National Council for Peace and Order's "road map" to the general election, with discussions in recent weeks suggesting the election may be held much later than originally promised after the May 22 coup last year.

Those interviewed say the longer the election is delayed, the more the pressure on General Prayut Chan-o-cha's administration and the NCPO.

Some say that in order for the referendum to be legitimate, the interim constitution imposed after the coup will have to be amended to allow a referendum, with adequate time for debate and deliberation and to study the draft of the new permanent charter. Some experts suggested this could take up to six months.

There are also debates on what the referendum should be about - should there be a plebiscite on the whole draft charter or just on some articles or sections of it?

What happens if the draft is rejected?

Some experts predicted that the election might in fact be postponed by up to two years. What's more, key leaders of mass protests put down by the junta, such as Suthep Thaugsuban and Jatuporn Prom-pan, have been vocally urging Prayut to stay on for two or more years.

Thammasat University political scientist Attasit Pankaew said the longer the election is deferred, the more pressure will be piled on the NCPO. "The junta needs to beware that it most likely is going to face increasing pressure both domestically and abroad.

If the election is delayed for another two years, domestic pressure on the junta would very much depend on how it governs the country and the country's economic performance, which has been disappointing," he said.

Attasit said the economy was the key factor that would determine the popularity of the junta, and hence the support or resistance directed towards it.

"Of course, everyone wants to see the junta leading the country towards reforms, especially political reform, but [the military rulers] need to remember that everyone's key priority is their living standards, above all else," he said.

Law lecturer Ekachai Chainuvati, who did not want his institution to be named because of the sensitivity of the situation, said the country's undemocratic rule had had a negative impact on the economy, which in turn was affecting the relationship and popularity of the junta with the general public.

'Public will lose confidence'

Ekachai said that without an election, people would not feel confident and certain about the country's direction. Thus they are reluctant to spend money, and this can have a great negative impact on the economy.

"The country's economic performance has been poor, and it will be one of the key factors in the deteriorating popularity of the junta," he concluded.

Democrat Party legal adviser Wirat Kalayasiri said he agreed that the longer the election is postponed, the greater the pressure on the junta, particularly if it is unable to turn around the economy. However, if it can improve the economy, people will then give the NCPO a chance.

Not only is the junta likely to face domestic pressure, the longer it defers the election, the greater will be the pressure exerted by the international community, especially Western democratic countries such as the United States and the members of the European Union.

Former Pheu Thai MP Chavalit Wichayasut said a price might have to be paid if the election is delayed. For example, Thailand is currently being boycotted by the US and the EU.

"We have to recognise that we are not alone in this world. We need to be accepted globally," he said.

Despite the emphasis on the timing of the election, many admitted that the Kingdom's decade-old political problems and divisions would not just disappear.

Academics and politicians interviewed all agreed that the general election could at best solve some problems but the democratically elected government would face a great burden in ensuring peace and order, and in the push for reform and reconciliation.

"I think the most important thing is that after an election, we will have a clear and collective plan on the process of how we are going to move forward as a nation. The plan must be accepted by all sides and political groups," Attasit said.

He said the NCPO currently felt the need to establish organisations that will oversee and monitor the progress of reforms after an elected government assumes power.

"If a democratically elected government doesn't carry on with the reform plan, then all could go waste, because elections alone cannot solve all problems. For example, reconciliation is more than about having an election - it has to do with equality, justice and civil liberty," he said.

Ekachai expressed similar sentiments. An election cannot solve the problem of military interference in politics. This "vicious cycle" will continue as long as Thai society and people still accept military power and hope that a military coup can solve political problems.

Wirat, meanwhile, said an election itself might not solve all problems, including political conflicts.

As for Chavalit, though he agreed that an election could not solve all problems, he said it could ease tension after a civilian government returns. "I believe the situation will be better after the election because it will give an opportunity for the people to make decisions and make their voices heard," Wirat said.

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