Election in February? Debate over election inspectors raises more doubts
By Thai PBS/
For many people, there are good reasons to doubt whether the long-anticipated election will take place within the time frame as outlined in the military junta’s political roadmap?
February of 2018 is the time frame that those anxious to see Thailand return to democracy through the ballot box want the military junta to stick to.
But an increasing number of politicians are questioning whether it will be kept now that a new factor has emerged that has the potential to delay it.
The uncertainty stems from a recent move by a group of 36 members of the junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly to amend the organic law on the Election Commission, specifically regarding the appointment of 616 provincial election inspectors for all provinces, including Bangkok Metropolis.
The job of these inspectors – an average of eight for each province – is to ensure that the election is conducted freely and fairly. They will have the authority to monitor voting and do spot check at polling stations. The inspectors are also empowered to monitor conduct of poll officials and detect irregularities.
Under the proposed amendments by the 36 NLA members, a selection committee of each province will select the election inspectors. In the case of Bangkok, the selection committee is made up of the city clerk as the panel chairman, chief of the election department of the Supreme Court, a representative from the Attorney-General’s Office, the metropolitan police commissioner and one representative each from the Thai Chamber of Commerce, the Federation of Thai Industries and the Thai Bankers Association.
For the other provinces, the selection committee is made up of the provincial governor as the panel chairman, a provincial chief judge, the provincial chief prosecutor, the provincial police chief, chairman of the provincial chamber of commerce and chairman of the provincial industrial association.
In other words, the legislators are not happy with what they see as the arbitrary nature of the appointment process used by the outgoing Election Commission. They see the list of election inspectors already drawn up as people with suspected links one way or another to political parties or interest groups.
What they want is for the incumbent Election Commission to leave the job of appointing election inspectors to the new commission whose appointment is pending royal approval.
But outgoing Election Commission chairman Supachai Somcharoen begs to differ. He argued that his panel is legally bound to nominate the inspectors otherwise they could be faulted for omission of duty. Supachai also said the new Election Commission can always remove any of the inspectors it believes to be unqualified.
Critics see the move by the NLA members as an attempt to delay the election. Under the Constitution, the next general election can be held only after all the election-related laws take effect. NLA vice president Surachai Liangboonlertchai has tried to allay such fear, claiming that it would not in any way upset the political roadmap. But he insisted on the right of NLA members to seek amendments to the law. Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan also said he believed the political roadmap will not be affected by the proposed amendments.
But former Pheu Thai MP for Samut Prakan Worachai Hema is not convinced. He said he suspected that the attempt to amend the law is a tactic to delay the election out of fears that political parties allied with the military junta would not win the election.
And this is one of the few issues on which the two erstwhile political opponents – Pheu Thai and the Democrat – share a common stand.
Democrat deputy leader Nipit Intharasombat has also raised a red flag. He said he believed the NLA members are acting on behalf of certain groups of people who want to see the election delayed. If the process of appointing the election inspectors is prolonged, the election could be postponed to May, he said.
Meanwhile, Mr Somchai Sawaengkarn, the secretary of the NLA’s extraordinary committee or “whips”, said the NLA members are still in the process of gathering opinions and feedbacks from all stake-holders on the proposed amendments which have yet to be formally put on the NLA’s agenda.
He noted that the process of amending such an important organic law could take up to a year, considering the need for public hearings as constitutionally required. And the term of NLA would already have expired by the time the amendments are adopted.