Thai politicians meet election panel

For the first time since the 2014 coup, over 300 politicians from various parties gathered in Bangkok yesterday at a meeting hosted by the Election Commission (EC).

It was set up to confirm what parties can and cannot do from April 1 - when the ruling junta's ban on political activities is due to be partially lifted - although an election date has still not been set.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said late last month that the election would be held in February next year, and on Tuesday, he denied that the government has plans to push back this date.

However, members of the commission and political parties fear that red tape could lead to delays.

Parties will only be able to confirm their membership numbers when the ban is partially lifted on April 1 - four years after the coup that ousted Yingluck Shinawatra's government.

However, the Pheu Thai Party's secretary-general, Mr Phumtham Wechayachai, said a one-month period for this process might be too short, as major parties are concerned about how to "follow the law and take part" in an election.

The Democrat Party, with 2.5 million members nationwide, asked about the legality of certain activities, such as how it should communicate with its members. Leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said: "Since we cannot recruit new party members now due to the junta ban on political activity, we want to find a way for as many as possible of our existing members to be able to confirm their status."

The EC itself struggled to answer many of the politicians' questions yesterday due to the fact that many junta orders are still in place.

The commission's deputy secretary-general, Mr Sawang Boonmee, speculated that the ban on political activity could be totally lifted by late June or early July after the party membership fee process finishes.

Meanwhile, the commission said it has submitted appeals to the National Council for Peace and Order for clarification of junta orders and an organic Bill issued last September laying out guidelines for a political party to form and take part in an election, to make sure that the junta, commission and political parties are all on the same page.

On March 18, the National Legislative Assembly submitted an organic Bill on senator selection for interpretation to the Constitutional Court. It forwarded another organic Bill on the election of MPs to Gen Prayut and is awaiting his decision - a move that led to speculation of election postponement "conspiracy", according to local media.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 29, 2018, with the headline 'Thai politicians meet election panel'. Print Edition | Subscribe