Thailand’s much delayed general election will be held on March 24, with a new government expected to be in place “by the middle of the year”.
The confirmation by Thailand’s Election Commission was announced on Wednesday (Jan 23) afternoon, hours after a royal decree declaring an election was released.
The upcoming election will end military rule that has been in place since 2014, when then army chief Prayut Chan-o-cha led a coup that toppled the Pheu Thai Party-led government and took over as premier.
Earlier plans to hold an election on Feb 24 were set aside after the government raised concerns that it may clash with some of the royal ceremonies for the coronation of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, which will be held from May 4 to 6. This will be Thailand’s first coronation since 1950.
In a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Election Commission chairman Ittiporn Boonpracong declined to say when the election results would be announced, saying this was still under discussion.
In a statement earlier that day (Wed), the Prime Minister’s office said: “A House of Representatives and a new government, under a democratic system with His Majesty the King as the Head of State, will be in place by the middle of this year.”
It asked “all Thai people to help maintain a constructive environment of orderliness, civility and unity over the duration of the general elections and the organisation of the Coronation Ceremony, for the auspiciousness of our nation”.
“Political campaigning and the presentation of policy platforms can be undertaken through democratic processes, so that the soundest and most viable proposals are presented to the people,” it said.
“However, conflicts and disputes that can create a political crisis, similar to those which have happened in the past, should not be allowed to reoccur.”
For months before the 2014 coup, opponents of the Pheu Thai government had occupied the streets of Bangkok in a bid to oust it. These royalist protestors argued that Pheu Thai, which won a landslide victory in the 2011 election, was being controlled remotely by self-exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who himself was ousted by a coup in 2006.
Rules for this forthcoming election make it very difficult for any big party like Pheu Thai to win a ruling majority. Instead, analysts expect the future government to be formed by a coalition.
Political parties, which had been campaigning in a low-key mode over the past weeks to comply with election rules, declared on Wednesday they are ready to go full steam ahead.
“We are ready for the election and have been working towards this day for a long time,” said Democrat Party spokesman Thana Chiravinij.
“This election will lead the country out of the problems that have occurred over the past eight years.”
Future Forward Party spokesman Pannika Wanich said: “The faster this vote takes place, the faster people will have their power back.”
Former energy minister Pichai Naripthaphan, now a member of Pheu Thai’s allied party Thai Raksa Chart, told The Straits Times: “This is quite a good news for Thailand, as it will get rid of doubt over whether there will be an election.
“Hopefully we will have a free and fair election which will be acceptable, according to international standards.”