Will national elections, now tentatively scheduled for September 2016, be delayed again to enable junta chairman and prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to stay in power for two more years?
Following a call by 26 members of the junta-appointed National Reform Council (NRC) for the coup leader to extend his term by two years in order to complete a vaguely defined reform process, the junta chairman has now signalized he was indeed willing to delay elections even further if “the people” demanded it.
Following the military takeover in May last year, the junta initially promised a new general election for sometime in 2015. As it stands now, a national election is expected to be held not before September 2016, that is provided the new junta-sponsored draft constitution passes a national referendum.
Two more years would take us deep into 2017 or 2018; and there are several strong indicators now that “democracy as we know it”, that’s with elections, freedom of speech and all that stuff, may indeed remain suspended until then.
1) On Thursday Prayuth conceded for the first time he would “agree” to stay on for two more years if “the public” approved the measure in a vote. He repeated his stance in a press conference at Government House a day later and was quoted by Khaosod English as saying
if it is the voice of the people, how can I oppose it?
2) The Nation reports today that the group of NRC members who recently called on Prayuth to stay in power were now also making moves to launch a “signature drive” in favour of delaying a fresh general election. An unnamed NRC member reportedly proposed that “the public could start collecting some 20,000 to 30,000 signatures demanding that Prayuth stay on for another two years to ensure the reform process could be completed.”
Meanwhile, a deputy prime minister suggested that the controversial issue should be a “decision for the people and could be included in the charter referendum”.
3) According to a Suan Dusit Poll “conducted between June 3 and 6 on 1,249 people throughout the country”, more than 75% of respondents allegedly supported “reforms before election” (which was a slogan of the anti-government protesters of 2013/2014 who effectively called on the military to stage a coup). The Bangkok Post reports today:
A majority, 75.11%, of the respondents said they agreed with the reforms-before-election proposal (…) while 24.89% disagreed (…).
Asked what should be a suitable length of time to carry out reforms, 36.20% said two years should be enough; 31.09% one year; 18.09% three years; and 14.52% said this depends on the situation, but should not exceed five years.
Needless to say that in the current environment where criticism of the junta is virtually prohibited, the results of this poll must be taken at least with a pinch of salt. Yes, some even suggest “polls might be manipulated” and mere tools of propaganda and question the whole gibberish of “reforms before elections”.
Update (June 9) – According to a report by Khaosod English, the ultra-conservative monk Buddha Issara, a key figure in the anti-government protests of 2013/14, has already
submitted 50,000 signatures he collected in support of delaying elections for two more years so that junta chairman Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha can stay in power until his reform program is completed.