New laws published by Thailand’s government on Wednesday sealed a May 2019 deadline for the first elections since the military seized power four years ago, although the junta chief again assured the public that the vote would occur in February.
The publication in the Royal Gazette of laws on electing members of parliament and selecting senators ended many months of speculation and set a timeframe for when the government would stage national polls, after the junta had postponed them at least one-half dozen times since overthrowing a civilian-led government in a May 2014 coup.
The laws will take effect in December, 90 days after publication. The constitution requires the election commission to organize the general election within 150 days of the laws taking effect, setting a deadline by next May.
“The tentative date proposed by the election commission is Sunday, Feb. 24,” Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, the retired army general who led the 2014 coup, told reporters Wednesday as he reiterated a statement he made in late August. “The timeframe doesn’t change.”
The new laws stipulate that the parliament will have 500 members, including 350 elected from specific districts along with 150 representatives selected from party lists and allocated on the basis of proportional representation.
The senator selection law requires the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) – the junta’s official name – to pick 244 people from a list prepared by the election commission and the nomination committee, and add six spots reserved for military leaders to total 250 members.
Prayuth also said he would exercise his power to relax some laws regulating political activities in order to pave the way for a fair election.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, who is in charge of security, told reporters last month that the junta would continue to enforce a law that bans political gatherings of five or more people in the name of national security. He said it would be lifted in mid-December or later to allow for campaigning.
Prayuth’s announced date for elections should work for political parties, an official with one party told BenarNews.
“We don’t want to see a delay of the election,” said Nipit Indarasombat, deputy leader of the Democrat Party.
“I think two months for the election campaign is enough. It shouldn’t be a problem, he said. “But, first of all, the junta needs to allow political parties time to hold some activities.”