The Prime Minister this week told reporters to await publication of the royal decree which will be published, eventually in the royal gazette. The election now looks like it will be postponed and parties are awaiting official confirmation of the election date by Thailand’s Election Commission which will follow in days after publication of the royal decree.

It has now been revealed that preparations for a February 24th election in Thailand have stopped according to a leaked document. It comes in a week where Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha told reporters to wait and not to speculate on when the royal decree for the election is published in the official Thai government  record, the royal gazette. On Thursday, there was an incident in Phayao province where a former Pheu Thai MP accused the government and local authorities of ‘political persecution’ when the use of a local sports facility was revoked within 24 hours of a political meeting. In the meantime, political parties are announcing policies and plans but all parties are increasingly focused on formal confirmation of the election date by Thailand’s election commission.

Thailand’s Interior Minister, Anupong Paochinda, this week told the media that the possible election postponement is ‘no big deal’ and that an election is one hundred per cent certain. However, as political parties publish new policies and manifestos, the absence of a confirmed date from the election commission is likely to become more pronounced. Meanwhile, there was a political skirmish in Phayao province this week when a local Pheu Thai rally was denied access to a provincial sports facility. The former local Pheu Thai MP accused the government and local officials of  ‘political persecution.’ Focus has also moved to the policies of political parties, on offer, with the promise of payments for young children from birth until eight years age by the Democrat Party drawing a lot of attention. Such a policy is needed to help improve Thailand’s declining birth rate, already 24% below population replacement level.

It is reported from Bangkok that the Thai government has suspended logistical preparation for the elections. Thailand’s Interior Ministry is reported to have issued orders to provincial election registration offices to stop poll preparations. The information comes from an internal communication which has been leaked to the media. ‘The internal letter relates to the initial poll date, but when the royal decree did not come out yet, therefore the Election Commission asked us to end or delay the preparation,’ Anupong Paochinda, Thailand’s Interior Minister is quoted as saying. ‘There must be a clear poll date first.’

Pro democracy activists protest in Bangkok

This would appear to all but rule out the February 24th date which was accepted by most commentators as the election date up to last week. The royal decree required by the Election Commission was reported to be expected sometime last week. The postponement of the election date has begun to worry pro democratic activists who protested in small numbers this week in Bangkok. While most party leaders seem to be unconcerned about a confirmed date with a delay of a few weeks, a further issue has been raised by a former election commissioner and now candidate for the Democrat Party, Somchai Srisuthiyakorn. He has pointed out that failure to hold the election within a limited time frame may see the results of the election announced after May 9th. He has expressed concern about this as this would be a cut off date if the election law was to be interpreted in one way. This interpretation would imply that all election processes, leading to confirmation of results, must be complete within 150 days from December 11th when the law became effective. Indeed, the Thai government Minister and Deputy Prime MinisterWissanu Krea-ngam, who liaises with the election commission, has suggested a March 24th poll date with a May 22nd results announcement.

Ambiguous language gives rise to legitimacy of the election is the whole process is not complete within 150 days from December 11th 2018

According to Mr Srisuthiyakorn, this scenario may lead the election to be interpreted as outside the election law which has stated a period of 150 days from December 11th when the law was passed for the completion of the election. Mr Srisuthiyakorn cited ambiguous language in the bill as the cause of his concern that in such a scenario the election could, at a later stage, be declared void by a constitutional court. However this clearly is not the view of many insiders working with the Thai government, who interpret the election law’s wording to give more latitude. Some have simply interpreted the law to mean that the election poll itself must take place within the 150 day time frame.

Thailand’s Interior Minister: ‘It’s no big deal. There will, one hundred percent, be an election’

This week, the Interior Minister was a lot more upbeat. ‘It’s no big deal. There will, one hundred percent, be an election,’ he said. He also reminded people that the date of the election is a matter solely for the Election Commission to determine. He said that this body would decide on an eventual postponement or delay.

Thai PM told reports this week to wait until the royal decree for the election is published in the Royal Gazette, the official government record

The coronation of the Thai King, announced for early May, is focusing minds of Thai authorities who wish to avoid a clash between this hugely important event and election activities. The Election Commission has said it is waiting on the royal decree to formally set the date of the election in the first place. ‘I expect that the poll is pushed off from February 24th but that wouldn’t be too long because the junta still needs legitimacy to hold the coronation.’ This was the judgment of Titipol Phakdeewanich who is the Dean of Political Science at Ubon Ratchathani University in Thailand. Meanwhile, Thailand’s prime Minister and possibly a candidate for the top job after the election, has said that people should just wait. ‘I would like to see the process completed the soonest. In regards with the royal decree on the election, wait until it is announced in the Royal Gazette,’ he told Thai reporters on Tuesday.

Northern provinces political firestorm over cancelled Pheu Thai use of a sports facility controlled by the provincial authority in Phayao

Meanwhile, a firestorm brewed up in in Phayao province in northern Thailand over a campaign event for Pheu Thai, the former Thai ruling party which has its core support in the north of Thailand. Supporters and political influencers in the north of Thailand, linked to the current government, have been trying to make inroads there for the last 12 months. The flare up related to the cancellation by the Phayao local authorities of permission, previously granted to Pheu Thai, to hold a political meeting at a local sports facility. When Pheu Thai supporters arrived at the venue on Thursday they were greeted with a cordon placed around the perimeter and a notice prohibiting access.

Former Pheu Thai MP cries ‘political persecution’ as political meeting is denied access to public sports arena by local authorities at 24 hours notice

Permission had earlier been granted for the event at the venue. Up to 1,000 arrived from over 160 villages in the districts and Dok Kham Tai and Phu Kam Yao to hear party leaders speak. As it became apparent that they were denied the use of the sports area, they organized makeshift speaking facilities using pickup trucks near the road perimeter. The crowd was addressed by Pheu Thai politician, Laddawan Wongsriwong, who is a former Pheu Thai MP for the province. She was scathing in her criticism of the actions of the provincial authorities. She described the act as ‘political persecution’ and news of the standoff and improvised speech has gone national. The Phayao provincial authorities, however, had intimated that the use of the public sports arena would give an unfair advantage to the former Thai ruling party.

Deputy PM told the media is he was not fully aware of the dispute but supported local officials

The MP continued to claim, however, that the Pheu Thai party and its followers were the subject of unfair treatment. The controversy has even drawn in Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister, Prawit Wongsuwan, stalwart ally and colleague of Thailand’s current PM, Prayut Chan ocha. He denied being aware of the change of heart by the Phayao provincial authority in cancelling permission for the meeting at the facility. Pheu Thai claimed that a surprise letter, dated the 9th of January, was received cancelling the meeting with less than 24 hours notice. Permission had been requested and granted prior to that for use of the venue. There are also reports that the rival Palang Pracharat Party, associated with the current Thai government, had used the facility in recent times for a political event. The Deputy PM, however, said that it was his view that the provincial authorities had acted properly and he was not fully aware of all the facts of the matter.

Democrat party proposing payments for more children in Thailand to address birth rate

Meanwhile, the political process has entered a grey area as political parties and activists await the election date. As the election rally in Phayao shows, there is campaigning on the ground. Thailand has a vast array of political parties contesting the election and many of them, including the parties supporting the government, are promising steps in the direction of more state support for society. A policy the stands out is that of the Democrat Party, Thailand’s oldest party, who held power under former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva from 2008 to 2011. They are promising payment for all  children from birth until they are eight years of age. It would be both a popular movie with all voters, rich and poor, but also address a key long term problem that Thailand faces. Thailand’s respected National Economic and Social Development Board recently issued a report identifying the need to tackle Thailand’s birth rate which is currently 24% below the replacement level and the defecit is projected to increase to 33% by 2040. This will have a devastating effect on Thailand’s economy and outlook. In fact, it is already one of the greatest factors holding the Thai economy back. The Democrat party proposal is reported as being projected to cost up to ฿10 billion per year.

An amazing arrays of manifestos and plans for government is testament strong political base

The current government is associated with the Palang Pracharat Party, which is promising to continue the Thai current government’s policy of targeted social welfare supports, expanding economic benefits and initiatives to poorer areas and implementing the country’s ambitious plan to embrace digital technology, Thailand 4.0. The new Future Forward Party is quite popular with younger, progressive and more urban Thai citizens. It talks about creating more competition in Thailand and embracing digital technology. It has an imaginative idea to make public transport accessible to all Thai people and a proposes a hyperloop transportation system as a showcase project, which can travel at speeds of up to 1000 km per hour. All parties are concerned about supporting education access and improving the preparedness of Thai students for a new economic world. The former ruling Pheu Thai party is seen by many of its supporters still as the best option for the less well off in Thailand. Polling suggests they are remaining loyal to the party. The range of policies and plans is quite amazing and further demonstrates the healthy nature of grass roots politics in a country where it has been dormant for four and half years, since the 2014 coup.

Phoney atmosphere until election is formally announced

However, for now what we have is a phoney political battle in a vacuum. In fact, the atmosphere and popular excitement surrounding the election will gradually to be sucked out of the environment until a confirmed and official date is formally announced by Thailand’s election commission.