Former Thai PM Abhisit Vejjajiva, academics voice concern over 'risky' new election delay

Former Thai prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva voiced objections over the delay in the upcoming election, saying citing legislation as the cause of the postponement may no longer be reasonable.
Former Thai prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva voiced objections over the delay in the upcoming election, saying citing legislation as the cause of the postponement may no longer be reasonable.PHOTO: ST FILE
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha had promised an election date only for it to be delayed at least four times since he took power nearly four years ago.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha had promised an election date only for it to be delayed at least four times since he took power nearly four years ago.PHOTO: AFP

BANGKOK (THE NATION/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Former Thai prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and academics have raised objections to the delay in Thailand's upcoming election as a result of the complicated organic law legislative process, saying it could no longer be justified.

Their response came after Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha's statement last week that the government may announce the promised election next year (2018) but that it could be held in 2019.

The junta head had promised an election date only for it to be delayed at least four times since he took power nearly four years ago.

Mr Prayut had reportedly told United States President Donald Trump during their meeting last week (Oct 3) that the election date would be announced next year without any further postponement. He had said that the election would be organised within 150 days after the promulgation of essential organic laws, which he said should be completed by November 2018.

Given Mr Prayut's timeline, the election could be held in March or April 2019.

Mr Abhisit, who is leader of the Democrat Party, said citing legislation as the cause of the postponement may no longer be reasonable.

The process should be in the framework set by the Constitution, he said. In addition, the work should have been done smoothly because every legislator came from within the coup-backed circle, or the so-called "five rivers of power", which refers to the five bodies controlling the current government, he added.

"Now, please, do not send anymore signals to put off the vote or drag it out because this only leads to more issues and risks causing conflict in the future," Mr Abhisit said. "The ambiguity is not good for anyone."

Mr Abhisit also called for the current regime to stop creating conditions that would postpone the election, adding that he wished to see the government resolve the problems facing people and ensure peace after the poll.

Political scientist Sirote Klampaiboon also said the postponement did not sound reasonable.

After the regime cited the legislation for the delay, Mr Sirote said he believed a quicker process was possible, considering that not much revision was needed and there had not been a lot of work on research or gathering opinions.

Despite Mr Prayut's recent promise, Mr Sirote said he believed the poll's prospect were still rather slim.

"In reality, General Prayut has announced officially at least twice that an election would be held. Once when he visited Japan and met with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and the other time, he told Ban Ki Moon, a former United Nations secretary-general. The election was still postponed," Mr Sirote said.

Worse still, he said, what was being emphasised more clearly now were all the reasons why the election could not be held and had to be delayed.

He added that Mr Prayut and other leaders in the regime did not even talk about the election clearly anymore, only saying when they would "announce" when it would occur.

Mr Sirote warned that the uncertainty over the so-called "road map to democracy" and the election date could not only hurt the economy and drive investors away, but would also undermine the regime.

"The junta will be put under pressure continuously due to apparent poor administration. Aside from that, because the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) never learnt to share but only keeps power for itself, the number of its political enemies will also grow."

Another political critic, Attasit Pankaew, a political scientist at Thammasat University, said that although the Constitution had laid out a timetable allowing the election to be delayed, public sentiment should also be a determining factor that should not be overlooked.

"If people do not feel like the poll should be deferred, maybe the junta should listen to them as well," the political scientist said.

More importantly, Dr Attasit said the road map, which dictates the major points of the junta's plans including the election, was a key reference point of the regime. When it kept changing, it reflected political instability, which ultimately could affect everything from society to the economy, he said.

"It is a point of concern because it involves national stability," the academic said. "All society, the economy and everything are based on politics. When there is uncertainty in politics, all other sectors cannot make plans and so the economy might not be able to develop."

The road map should be clear and reliable, Dr Attasit said, or the country would be filled with an atmosphere of mistrust and uncertainty.

INVESTMENT DELAYS

Mr Stanley Kang, chairman of the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce in Thailand, said the impact of the election delay would depend on future events and the explanation given.

Investors expected the election would take place by the end of this year, but a short delay would not negatively affect investor confidence, he said.

"An election a bit late would not have any affect, if the government has a good explanation and no trouble happens," said Mr Kang, a Taiwanese investor.

But Mr Sakon Varanyuwatana, former dean of Thammasat University's Economics Faculty, said the delay of the general election would impact investor confidence.

He said many people had expected the election next year and had wanted to see who would form the new government and carry out economic policy.

"The delay of the election will create uncertainty as investors wait for the new government," Mr Sakon said.

The current government has tried to ensure that economic reforms will continue by setting up reform and strategy committees and demanding new governments follow its 20-year strategy.

Meanwhile, Mr Pipat Luangnaruemitchai, assistant managing director at Phatra Securities, said the election delay would not have much impact on investor confidence in the economy. He added that no one expected the political situation to deteriorate and lead to turmoil.

Some investors might wait until the new government forms as European countries would not officially deal with the current junta government, he added.