Thailand gears up for May elections but campaigning remains forbidden

15-Sep-2018 Intellasia | AP Reuters | 6:00 AM Print This Post

After a series of long delays and broken promises, Thailand’s military government has enacted laws that set in motion a countdown for new elections by next May.

The measures, which became law on Wednesday with their publication in the Royal Gazette, cover selection of members of Parliament and senators.

The act covering lower house lawmakers becomes effective in 90 days and mandates that elections be held within 150 days after that, effectively setting a legal deadline in May.

Prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who heads the regime that seized power in a 2014 coup, said last month that a general election was likely to be held on February 24, but left open the possibility of a later date.

The ruling junta has previously set dates for elections but then postponed them.

There are to be 500 lawmakers in the lower house, while the 250 senators will all be appointed.

Thailand’s latest constitution, pushed through by the military government, is designed to limit the power of political parties, with election rules designed to keep any single party from winning a clear majority, and gives the Senate more powers than in previous charters.

The rules are mostly meant to curb the political machine of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose populist policies won him enormous support and threatened the influence of traditional power holders, including the military. He was deposed by a 2006 military coup, but his following remained strong. His sister Yingluck Shinawatra became prime minister in 2011, only to have her government in 2014 also toppled by the army.

Prayuth, who led the 2014 military takeover, has been coy about whether he wants to serve as prime minister again after the election, but has been making campaign-like appearances around the country while his backers have lined up support from influential politicians.

Political gatherings of five or more people were banned by the junta after it seized power, effectively forcing all political parties into dormancy while the junta quashed dissent and consolidated its rule.

The government is cracking down on alleged sympathisers of a tiny political movement advocating the abolishment of the constitutional monarchy, seizing as evidence T-shirts bearing the group’s logo of a red and white flag.

Late last month, the junta announced it would ease some restrictions on political parties to let them conduct basic functions and prepare for elections set for early next year, but campaigning would remain forbidden for the time being.

A woman, who asked her lawyers to identify her only by her first name, Wannapha, to protect her privacy, appeared in a Bangkok court on Wednesday, arrested in connection with the sale of the shirts which authorities say promote a federal republic.

Prayuth said the new rules would allow political parties to hold meetings, make adjustments to regulations, appoint managers and accept new members ahead of the polls.

Meanwhile, Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen says Western countries are too critical of politics in the region and that it should be left to solve its own problems.

In a speech alongside other regional leaders, strongman Hun Sen pointed to the international condemnation of his country’s recent election, which was seen by many as a farce after the main opposition party was dissolved. He also cited the international outcry over the violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

“Countries which are outside of the region always slap our heads and tell us what to do,” Hun Sen said at a panel discussion with leaders from Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos at the World Economic Forum on Asean in Hanoi.

“I raised this issue not as a message for any particular country, but I would like to say that these Mekong countries are the political victims, so I request outsiders of the region who don’t know about the issues to let us solve our problems.”

Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party won all 125 parliamentary seats in a July general election, which the United Nations and some Western countries have said was flawed because of the lack of a credible opposition among other factors.

The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party CNRP was dissolved late last year ahead of the election.


Category: Thailand

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