A date for the general election has not yet been set under Thailand’s strict constitutional laws. The election commission must set the date within days after the Thai government promulgates an official decree. A former election commissioner, now Democrat Party candidate, has warned of possible legal jeopardy if the election results are announced after May 9th 2019, citing ambiguous wordings of Thailand’s electoral legal provisions which govern the poll
Although Thailand’s election looks set to be postponed by a matter of weeks, the Prime Minster still says he sees no need to change course and accepts that it is a matter for Thailand’s election commission to set the date. Last Friday, Deputy Prime Minster Wissanu Krea-ngam suggested a date of March 24th to avoid post election events clashing with Thailand’s highly symbolic and important Royal Coronation to run for May 4th to 6th. However the President of Thailand’s Election Commission also said, on the same day, that the commission could not set the date for the election without the required royal decree being promulgated by the government under constitutional provisions. Meanwhile, a former election commissioner and now an election candidate for the Democrat Party, has raised fears that if election results are delivered after May 9th, it could possibly raise the specter of a future constitutional challenge.
Mild tensions have arisen between the Thai government and the country’s Election Commission over the coordination and finalisation of a date for this year’s election. As it stands, the election commission has said that it is not in a position to fix the date without the royal decree being issued. Indeed a spokesman for the commission has already pointed out that no date has ever been set according to Thailand’s election law governing the election which was passed by Thailand’s acting parliament, the National Legislative Assembly, on December 11th last.
Election Commission President says body will set election date once royal decree is issued
This has led the President of Thailand’s Election Commission, Ittiporn Boonpracong, on Friday to issue a statement following a lengthy statement by Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam. The statement directly addressed the concerns and points made by the government minister. ‘We acknowledge the details on the ceremony given by the deputy prime minister on January 3rd and our office is fully ready to hold the MP elections. We will set the date for the election and announce it once the royal decree on the election is published in the Royal Gazette.’
Reports suggest that if the royal decree is issued shortly, then an election date within two weeks of the February 24th date can be set by the election commission which is the the body tasked, constitutionally, with doing so.
Deputy Prime Minister suggests March 24th date for the Thai general election poll
It comes as Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister, Wissanu Krea-ngam, has suggested that the commission adopt a March 24th date for the election. The government has been anxious to highlight the danger of post election events clashing with the Royal Coronation due to take place between May 4th and 6th this year. He stated that the government was concerned that activities, stipulated by law, which must occur after the general election poll itself. However, statements from officials associated with the commission appear to suggest that it cannot do so without royal decree being formally issued.
Deputy PM suggests a 52 day campaign period in the run up to the poll with results on May 22nd
The Deputy Prime Minister raised the issue of the submission of a list of new Thai senators to the King and the customary participation of the monarch in opening the new parliament. He suggested a March 24th date, which he envisaged would see poll results announced on May 22nd. He confirmed that when the royal decree for the election was issued that the election campaign would commence in earnest and that the clock would then start ticking for campaign expenditure. He suggested that political parties and candidates would have 52 days for campaigning under the plan that he was outlining to the commission. This would seem to indicate the royal decree could be issued, at a later stage, at the latest, the end of this month. The election commission is constitutionally bound to set the election date within days of the royal decree.
Suggestion that election results announced later than May 9th may give rise to a challenge
The potential problem in this state of affairs is the sequencing of events and any act that could be considered as falling outside the constitutional provisions, which are quite complex. There has been a suggestion, for instance, that if the royal decree is not issued in time and the election date followed by post poll activities, leads to results been declared after May 9th 2019, then the general election could possibly be invalidated by a Thai court. Similar issues arose prior to the coup in 2014 when a snap general election called by the then Pheu Thai government led by Yingluck Shinawatra was declared invalid. Thailand has not had a legitimate election since 2011.
Former election commissioner, removed by junta, in a cautious response, raises questions
Former election commission member and now an election candidate for the Democrat party running for election to the new parliament for Samut Sakhon province, Somchai Srisuthiyakorn, has come out with a cautious response to the situation. Mr Srisuthiyakorn was removed from the election commission in 2018 by the Prime Minister General Prayut Chan ocha in which he used the junta’s wide ranging powers under an instrument which has been referred to as Section 44. Current Democrat party leader Abhisit Vejjajivawarned this week that he was quite concerned about the extraordinary powers which the junta still holds. He said that he was concerned to see the election commission function impartially and maintain the trust of the political parties and the public.
Prime Minister still says no poll postponement and that it is up to the Election Commission
Mr Srisuthiyakorn was reported in Thailand’s authoritative Bangkok Post newspaper as putting forward a number of reasons for the apparent reluctance of the Thai government to issue the critical royal decree to commence the election process. Mr Srisuthiyakorn is a candidate running against pro government parties in the forthcoming election. He has, since his removal from the election commission in March 2018, become a critic of the junta. He was removed in March 2018 by the junta under Order No.4/2561 for making statements and remarks which the junta judged may sow confusion and possibly hinder the running of the election commission. The former and outspoken election commissioner said, after his removal last year, that his comments had made problems for those in power and that he was not surprised by his removal.
In this instance, he was also drawing on his formerly pivotal role and experience working within the commission. This includes the critical period of the 2014 snap general election, which was voided by Thailand’s constitutional court.
This must be weighed against comments last week from Thailand’s Prime Minister who suggested there was no need, at all, to postpone the poll. ‘Things remain unchanged,’ Prayut said. ‘The Election Commission will determine the election date. It’s up to them.’
Somchai, now a Democrat Party election candidate, has become a critic of the junta
Mr Srisuthiyakorn suggested is that the government may wish to prevent the results of the general election being announced at a similar time to the auspicious celebrations of the Royal Coronation. As Mr Srisuthiyakorn himself acknowledged, this is understandable as that occasion is a most solemn one for the Thai people and should be free from distractions. The outcome of the long awaited election is sure to be a momentous event in itself.
He urged that the existing election commission speaks for itself and its own constitutional role. He advised that any delay beyond a few weeks may give rise to public unease.
Former election commissioner warns about ambiguous wording of Thai election laws
The former election commissioner member particularly urged that the election results must be announced in full or by at least 95% by May 9th this year. This, he felt, could be interpreted as a deadline under the 150 day limit as set out in the law governing the election which was set on December 11th 2018. He highlighted the ambiguous nature of the wording of the law and highlighted this date as being significant for the commission in order to avoid a situation where the election could be challenged legally. It may be that, in the future, a Thai a court would interpret the election process to include the formulation and presentation of results. He suggested that bringing in the results beyond the 150 day period could see the election itself being voided by a court at a later date. If such a time frame became unavoidable, he suggested that election commissioner members seek to indemnify themselves, both civilly and criminally, for failing to conduct an election that met constitutional provisions.