February 23, 2018
The rejection by Thailand’s military government of seven proposed election commissioners is the latest set back for Thailand’s return to democracy.
Since it came to power in 2014, Thailand’s ruling junta has asked for understanding and patience from the populace as it tried to revive a stagnating economy and put to bed ten years of political turmoil.
A substantial proportion of the electorate seemed willing to give the junta a chance, after all, sporadic street protests since 2005 had stagnated ASEAN’s second largest economy and a political impasse had left the majority of people disillusioned with parliamentary proceedings.
Led by junta-chief Prayuth Chan-ocha and a cabinet of mostly generals, the military originally promised to stay in power for a little over a year.
Now, four years later, with a sluggish economy and no clear date on elections, a once understanding population is quickly growing impatient.
The junta has postponed elections at least five times for a variety of reasons from a poor security situation to the need to draft a new constitution.
But each time the military pushes back on polls, analysts say that more Thais flock to anti-junta protests which have been sporadic, and indeed made illegal by the government, but has steadily been growing for the past two years.
Despite the threat of arrests, a anti-junta protest in Bangkok in early February drew a crowd of several hundred people, the largest protests since the military took power.
The latest setback
On February 22, the junta’s rubber-stamp parliament voted to reject all seven proposed election commissioners over their lack of credibility with the public. Election Commissioners are the logistical and legal organizers of any election under the Thai constitution.
Parliament president Pornpetch Wichitcholchai maintained that the roadmap to the election remained unaffected despite the rejection of all the candidates, according to the Nation Newspaper.
A parliament source told the Nation that the rejection followed concern of legislators that the controversial initial selection process might have damaged public confidence in the new EC and more problems might ensue. The move was viewed as another attempt to prolong the holdovert power of the junta and delay the promised election.
A lack of trust
While Pornpetch tried to reassure the public that elections may be on course, it is the latest in a series of statements by the junta that have amounted to nothing.
At each postponement of polls, someone within the military government will come out to say that the ‘roadmap’ to election remains on course before going on to say that logistics of (insert constitution amendment, security situation, legal frameworks) means that polls will be pushed back.
The junta had made a similar statement as recently as January when it said that clauses within election laws that it had drafted meant that elections would more likely happen in 2019 than the November 2018 polls which had been promised.
A reason why
While the constant postponement might be frustrating for the public and fueling anti-junta sentiment, longtime political analysts within Thailand say that there is an explanation for the junta’s feet-dragging.
The junta has made no efforts to hide that it wants to influence power even after democracy is restored. The constitution the coup makers drafted guarantees that the upper house of the legislative body, the senate, is appointed by the military. The constitution also guarantees a seat on the senate for heads of all the armed forces.
Under the constitution, the senate has also been reinforced and given more power in a bid to curtail the power of the elected lower house.
Members of the coup government have also formed groups to explore starting a political party with the ultimate aim of maintaining military influence over parliamentary proceedings.
In addition to starting their own political party, sources say that the military has made contact with existing political parties to form a coalition government that could see coup-leader Prayuth Chan-ocha extending his tenure as prime minister.