Thailand is on the way towards a new democratic future which the National Council for Peace and Order hopes will usher in a new political order for the country.

Thai PM and Deputy PM share a joke
The Thai PM shares a joke with Deputy PM Pawit Wongwuwan. Thailand is moving carefully towards a new democratic future with the National Council for Peace and Order keen to preserve the stablity which the government has achieved since 2014. (Photo: The Nation)

A minister attached to the Thai Prime Minister office has told the press that Thailand is still on target to meet a target of the end of November 2018 for the return of democratic rule to the country. Suvit Maesincee said in the interview with the media in Bangkok that work is underway to perfect election laws in order to uphold a smooth and fair electoral process. ‘I think everything is on track for November,’ he said.

Thailand must find a new kind of politics

However, in a week which has seen the beginning of political discourse including a call from the Pheu Thai party for the law prohibiting political gatherings to be relaxed, the minister warned that a new kind of politics must be achieved in Thailand. This was essential in order for the country to break free from its traditional pattern of elections and coups. ‘If we come up with the old ways of politics, I don’t think that this country can go further, can be a part of the next level of global competition,’ the minister said candidly. He went on to say that this was necessary in order for Thailand to take advantage of global economic opportunities.

Thailand inching towards the democratic path

Thailand does appear to be inching slowly towards elections as the country’s election commission revealed details of how the new voting system for the lower house will work when elections are held at the end of 2018 or the beginning of 2019.

It has been suggested that with the Mixed Member Apportionment system, which has been proposed, it will be difficult for one party to gain an overall majority in the lower house of Parliament.

Issue regarding political gatherings in Thailand

Meanwhile, an issue has emerged regarding the ability of political parties to put together party lists and prepare for the elections. There is still a ban in place in Thailand on political gatherings. Under the new laws, now put in place in Thailand, to ensure transparency and accountability, political parties must keep accurate registration records for members and must report to the country’s election commission on a 90 day basis. The inability to hold political gatherings has presented Thailand’s political parties with a problem.

The introduction of the organic law concerning political parties and the activities of the Election Commission in explaining how the new MMA system will work has also raised the level of political activity with political parties essentially now already gearing up for elections.

It has been suggested by some including the Meechan Ruchuan, Head of the Constitution Drafting Committee and a member of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), that perhaps some amendment to the new laws might be made or another arrangement put in place. It is still unclear what the election authorities will propose. One deputy Wissanu Krea-ngam has told the press that the Prime Minister has indicated that some measures will be taken so as to ensure that the rights of political parties will not be damaged.

Pheu Thai party calls for relaxation of ban on political gatherings

The Pheu Thai party has called on the National Council for Peace and Order to introduce some sort of relaxation on the ban covering political gatherings. Acting leader of the party Pol Lt General Viroj Pao-In said that if the ban is not lifted it could cause serious damage to the prospects of political parties.

Essentially the law on political parties has already set down obligations for political parties to fulfill with specific time frames since it was passed. There are specific deadlines for political parties to meet by January 2018.

Concern that changes to the election law may delay elections

The National Council for Peace and Order has suggested that it is looking at ways to relax the ban and had previously indicated that this would not happen until after the cremation His Majesty King Bhumibol. Some political observers have noted that if the law is changed to extend the deadline then this may have implications for the date of the election set for the end of 2018 or early 2019.

New Thai cabinet expected shortly to give fresh impetus

Meanwhile Prime Minister Prayuth Chan Ocha has completed the paperwork for a cabinet reshuffle which has generated intense media speculation which he has deplored. It is believed that the list has been submitted for approval by His Majesty the King.

The new cabinet is expected to be ushered in by December. It is believed to have been caused by the resignation of the Thai Labour Minister General Sirichai Distakul. There has been speculation that the Prime Minister might use the occasion to introduce more civilian actors into the cabinet.

Although the government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan Ocha has been popular in Thailand and has certainly stabilized the country, there is thought to be a need to improve economic performance.

Economic challenges faced by those at the bottom of Thai society

Opinion polls, which have consistently endorsed the Prime Minister, show indications of a leveling off. The Prime Minister is still quite popular by any standard. A spokesperson for the Democrat Party Ongart Klampaiboon, in media interviews, has said that those at the bottom of the economic pile in Thailand are beginning to experience problems. ‘The grassroots economy has many problems,’ he said. ‘Poor people and people who live on day to day wages cannot make ends meet’. The Democrat party executive pointed out the prices for staple products like rubber, potatoes and rice were falling and that this has an impact on farmer on the south of Thailand.

New Thai cabinet an opportunity for the Thai PM

The resignation of the labour minister has been attributed to internal conflicts within his ministry by the media. The new cabinet has thrown up both a challenge and opportunity for Thailand’s Prime Minister. A Chulalongkorn University professor, Surachart, has pointed that out that if elections are to be held at the end of 2018, then it may be important that the record of the current prime Minister government is a good one at that point. However, the key achievement of the Prime Minister is already assured, the stability which Thailand now enjoys.