Thai polls set for March 24; new government likely by middle of the year

Thailand's much delayed general election will be held on March 24, with a new government expected to be in place "by the middle of the year".

The confirmation by Thailand's Election Commission (EC) was announced yesterday afternoon, hours after a royal decree declaring an election was issued.

The upcoming election will end military rule that has been in place since 2014, when then army chief Prayut Chan-o-cha led a coup that ousted the Pheu Thai Party-led government and took over as prime minister. A new Constitution enacted in 2017 allows the interim Premier to return to power - even if he does not contest in the election - if he gets enough support from the new Parliament.

Earlier plans to hold an election on Feb 24 were set aside after the government raised concerns that it may clash with some of the royal ceremonies for the coronation of King Maha Vajiralongkorn from May 4 to 6.

This will be Thailand's first coronation since 1950.

At yesterday's press conference, EC chairman Ittiporn Boonpracong declined to say when the election results would be announced, only that this was still under discussion.

In a statement earlier yesterday, the Prime Minister's Office said: "A House of Representatives and a new government, under a democratic system with His Majesty the King as the Head of State, will be in place by the middle of this year."

 
 
 
 

It asked "all Thai people to help maintain a constructive environment of orderliness, civility and unity over the duration of the general elections and the organisation of the Coronation Ceremony, for the auspiciousness of our nation".

For months before the 2014 coup, opponents of the Pheu Thai government had occupied the streets of Bangkok in a bid to oust it. These royalist protesters argued that Pheu Thai, which won a landslide victory in 2011, was being controlled remotely by self-exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who himself was ousted in a coup in 2006.

Rules for the forthcoming election make it very difficult for any big party like Pheu Thai to win a ruling majority. Instead, analysts expect the future government to be formed by a coalition.

Political parties, which had been campaigning in a low-key mode over the past weeks to comply with election rules, declared that they are ready to go full steam ahead.

"We are ready... and have been working towards this day for a long time," said Democrat Party spokesman Thana Chiravinij.

Former energy minister Pichai Naripthaphan, now a member of Pheu Thai's allied party Thai Raksa Chart, said: "Hopefully, we will have a free and fair election which will be acceptable according to international standards."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 24, 2019, with the headline 'Thai polls set for March 24; new govt likely by middle of the year'. Print Edition | Subscribe