Wednesday, January 22, 2020
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YESTERDAY marked a milestone for Thailand’s existing political parties, who were allowed to start reaffirming their membership lists, and their leaders began declaring their new policies, with an emphasis on the lingering military influence.

While the Democrat Party, many of whose former MPs joined the whistle-blowing protests that preceded the 2014 coup, held firm that it would not support Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha remaining in office after the election, the Bhumjaithai Party was reluctant to make its position clear.

“Party members would have to support the party’s leader, whoever he or she will be. Those wanting to support Prayut should choose the other way and not come here. There are many parties that would endorse such support,” Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said yesterday.

We would have to see how the military would enter [politics] and how many votes they would have [in the parliament],” he said.

According to the junta-written 2017 charter, the Upper and Lower Houses would jointly nominate the prime minister, who could be an “outsider”, if MPs could not agree over a list of three candidates for the top job.

Given the charter-invented mixed-member apportionment electoral system, it is very likely that the majority of MPs will be from diverse medium-sized and small parties, and the major parties will have a hard time to gain a parliamentary majority.

Senators will not only be wholly handpicked by the junta, but some of the seats in the Senate will be reserved for top-ranking military officers.

Political observers have said that such a scenario would weaken the power of the major parties while empowering the military in post-election politics.

The Democrat Party’s headquarters in Bangkok yesterday was buzzing with hundreds of former MPs and supporters visiting to reaffirm their memberships.


Deputy PM General Prawit Wongsuwan said on Thursday that he has not yet done anything wrong in regard to his possession of the luxury watches.

The deputy PM was responding to the growing call for him to resign over the ongoing watch scandal, which began with a Cabinet group photo last December in which he was spotted wearing an expensive watch and a diamond ring. It was later learned that the items had not been reported to the National Anti-Corruption Commission, as required by the law.

Photos were compiled on social media and widely shared showing Prawit wearing more watches, up to 25, on various occasions.

Prawit said the issue needs to wait for the NACC’s ruling. He has clarified the issue following the legal procedures required, he added.

ocial advocate Ticha Nanakorn on Wednesday submitted a petition to NACC president Pol General Watcharapol Prasarnrajkit urging him to expedite the probe.

Ticha on January 31 started a campaign on which has garnered over 80,000 petitioners calling on Prawit to resign.

Ticha said that even though Prawit had last week submitted to the NACC a fourth written explanation about the origin of the watches, it remained unclear whether the agency would summon him for a meeting or take any other action.

“Society is suspicious about the NACC’s action in this case,” she said.

She also questioned why the NACC has not disclosed any detail about the case. People want to know how Prawit obtained the watches and why he was repeatedly allowed to fend off NACC calls for clarification, she said.

On Tuesday, the NACC panel in charge of the matter said it would submit its preliminary findings to the NACC board next week.

NACC secretary-general Worawit Sukboon said yesterday the panel had received a 38-page letter detailing the origins of the 25 expensive watches that Prawit has been seen wearing on various occasions.

The deputy PM has never declared any of them as personal financial assets, as required by law.



THE government may need to go it alone in choosing the election date if political parties failed to “cooperate” and take part in a meeting to be held in June, Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha said yesterday.

In June, political party representatives are expected to meet the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and its appointed constitutional drafters and legislators to discuss holding the next election.

Also in the same month, all four organic laws essential for the election are to be announced in the Royal Gazette, paving the way for the country’s first general election in over four years after the May 2014 coup.

“We’ll have to find a conclusion as much as possible. Whichever party wishes to come is welcome,” Prayut said during his weekly press briefing at Government House.

“We have to hold the election eventually. Without cooperation, we will have to set the date on our own. How hard would that be?” he said.

Political parties would also be expected to explain how they would continue work initiated by his junta government, Prayut added. “They can’t have nothing in hand and get elected just like that,” he said.

While parties would not be expected to elaborate on their policies in front of the junta, Prayut said they should be able to “answer how problems can be solved”.

“They can reveal their policy platforms afterwards. I don’t expect to hear them,” he said.

“Political parties’ policies can’t make changes to the country because they benefit just certain groups of people. Hasn’t it been carried on in that way? The rice-pledging scheme, for instance. Who was it made for? Have they ever been responsible for the burden on the national budget?” he asked rhetorically.

The premier was apparently referring to the rice-pledging scheme carried out by fugitive former prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government. Last year, Yingluck was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment in a court case that stemmed from the project. Some of her Cabinet members and businesspeople involved in the project are facing lengthy jail terms and hefty fines.

Democrat Party key member Ongart Klampaiboon said the party might have to see an official invitation before deciding whether to join the discussion.

“The Democrat Party is more than willing to help contribute if the discussion will yield something for the country,” he said in reference to Prayut’s comments. “However, I’m not sure what this discussion will be about, because the topic keeps changing.”

The veteran politician also noted that scheduling the election date was normally the responsibility of the government and the Election Commission (EC). He said he was not sure what role political parties would play in that matter, as they had never previously had any involvement.

Pheu Thai Party politician Korkaew Pikulthong said yesterday that his party saw no need to join a discussion with the government regarding the election date.

“Determining the election date is the job of the EC and government,” said the former MP. “This government has failed to keep its promise [about the next election]. We’ll have to keep following up this issue,” he added.

Korkaew also said it was not the government’s business to discuss with political parties about their policy platforms. They had the freedom to formulate policies to satisfy voters and get elected, he added.

Prayut yesterday reiterated the so-called political road map was still valid despite the increasing possibility that the last two organic laws required for an election would be submitted to the Constitutional Court for review.

While the two laws have already been approved, a court decision on whether they violate the charter would mean that the legislative process could take longer and result in an even longer delay before the election.


“It can happen by legal procedure. We have the court. Otherwise the court would have no work to do,” Prayut said.

He also insisted that the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) should take care of the task. “They haven’t sent them back to [the government]. Don’t throw it to us,” he added.

Meanwhile, chief constitution drafter Meechai Ruchupan yesterday said he would not formally recommend to the prime minister that he seek a Constitutional Court ruling on the contentious MP election bill, despite concerns that its constitutionality issue may hamper the next election.

Some observers, including lawmakers, pointed to certain provisions deemed to be in conflict with the Constitution and they warned that the issue could fail the political road map and lead to an indefinite delay in the election.

The election bill allows people with special needs to be assisted by polling-booth officials in casting their votes. For many, this goes against the Constitution, which requires ballots to be cast in secret.

Meechai, chairman of the Constitution Drafting Commission (CDC), said yesterday it would not be a problem as long as such unusual voting did not happen in too many constituencies, and nobody raised the issue at the Constitutional Court.

However, Jade Donavanik, a law expert and advisor to the CDC, told The Nation that the legislation should be based on a broader interpretation, meaning it should not leave anything to chance.

He said the bill should be scrutinised by the Constitutional Court for the best clarity possible.

Members of the NLA, meanwhile, have insisted on not taking the bill to the court. In their view, it should not be a problem. Also, hey did not want a judicial review to put off the election further.



Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha on Monday urged people during his mobile Cabinet trip to the upper South to vote for those who have a longer-term vision, and not for candidates offering them short-sighted promises and populist policies, or the country would become bankrupt with everyone suffering as a result.

The premier joined his Cabinet members in inspecting the two main upper-South provinces of Samut Sakhon and Phetchaburi, where fishery is a prime business sector and the use of foreign labour has long been a major challenge for the country to properly address in order to receive international acceptance.

Prayut however took a few moments during the trip to mention politics, urging people to look beyond the present so that they could see their future, and particularly their happiness.

The PM said he wanted people to understand exactly what democracy means, with the holding of an election being one of the prime tools towards achieving democracy, but the electorate should also have knowledge about the candidates they were choosing from.

In his view, they should vote for people who have a work principle and a sustainable work approach, and not for those favouring short-sighted offerings as that would “collapse the country and we would all be in trouble”.

The premier stressed this point particularly in relation to state officials like kamnans and village heads.

“We must know what true democracy is. If we keep voting simply for those giving things away, we will be all [economically] dead, I tell you,” he insisted.

Prayut urged people to consider their choices carefully.

They should not throw their support behind anyone simply giving things away, but should back someone who would steer the country forward with plans every five years, he said.

The premier also said he was concerned about those “in the middle” and who say that anyone can become the government, as they have no interest in politics.

This, he suggested, could lead to a reckless government damaging the state budget, which would be dangerous for the country.

Prayut also insisted that he was not campaigning to vie for votes.

His government, he said, had been working for all people nationwide, and not those in one particular province, and would not “sell a dream” to people.

But, if the government could be said to be offering a dream, it would be something with a national strategy that would lead the country forward in a proper way, he added.

“People would like me if I just kept giving stuff away, but we [the government] just work based on principle,” the PM emphasised, adding that his administration was ready for any kind of scrutiny, with him alone having “over 400 to 500 cases pending” for that type of examination.