Probably no big winners and losers in election delay

In the Thai circumstances, delaying a general election by a month may not have a significant impact as far as voters are concerned.  But this is not to say that a possible one-month delay will not affect key political players.

It will buy time for people like Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva, who is torn between the Pheu Thai Party and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. And contrary to what a lot of critics must be saying, the extended period of election campaign can hurt Prayut and all the incumbents badly. Pheu Thai will have more time to compare the ratings of Sudarat Keyuraphan and Chadchart Sittipunt who are said to be neck and neck in the party’s list of prime ministerial nominees.

Reaction to the possible delay has been muted. Partly, it’s because the Election Commission has not given final official words yet on whether the date, February 24, will be changed. And partly, it’s because the coronation, set to happen in May, is a big event that stretches days and requires concentration.

So far, criticism has been mild in the mainstream media. Reports were presented matter-of-factly. To different critical degrees, the government was said to have given the EC a “hot potato.” The commission is expected to announce its final decision when the royal decree on the election takes effect, which will require the panel to set the voting date.

A one-month postponement will give Prayut’s opponents more time to soften him up. Already, he has been a punching bag, and the tide is unlikely to turn in his favour in a period of 30 days.

But while Pheu Thai can be content with the opportunity to launch an extended bombardment against Prayut, it will have to be worried about legal cases involving the likes of Panthongtae Shinawatra. More time for politicised legal cases is bad news for those on the receiving end who are not in the corridors of power.

Abhisit, meanwhile, will have more time for soul-searching, although 30 days may be too short to dig his way out. The Democrats are seriously risking losing anti-Thaksin voters whereas anti-military voters are more likely to choose Pheu Thai over them. The prolonged period is not lengthy at all for a party trying to sell its “neutrality” in a highly polarised political atmosphere.

What about Palang Pracharat, a party associated with the government which many think can benefit from a one-month delay? On the one hand, the party can be like Prayut in that  the period of being a “sitting duck” will be longer. But that is all about voters’ sentiment, not tactical advantages.  The party might suffer a backlash if pro-election voters unsatisfied with the delay take it out on it on the election day, but when it comes to incumbency advantages, 30 days may be enough for a lot of things to happen. In other words, the longer the government stays, potential “tactical” benefits are more possible for the party.

To every party, more time may mean greater chances of slip-ups. Electoral laws are stricter than before, meaning that the longer the campaigning period, the likelier costly mistakes. It can be argued that the legal campaigning timeframe will remain the same, but, in reality, parties and their members have started wooing voters already. With the current atmosphere anything but normal, it is easy to get confused as to when one cannot do what.

As for the deeply-divided voters, whether the election will take place on February 24 as scheduled or be delayed by a month does not matter at all. Virtually nothing can change their intention. If anything, the delay will only strengthen it.  – ThaiPBS World’s Political Desk


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