Thai PM says 2017 election will be held no matter what

Thai prime minister says 2017 election will take place even if constitution does not pass referendum

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan ocha arrives at a seminar on capital market development at the stock exchange in Bangkok, Thailand on January 15, 2016

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan ocha said on Tuesday that Thailand will hold a general election in 2017 even if a draft constitution did not pass the referendum to be held this year.

Southeast Asia’s second biggest economy has been hit by political instability for the past decades and promises on a return to democracy from the military government, which came to power after a 2014 coup, are closely watched.

The Thai government had earlier presented a new constitution, a prerequisite for a general election but Prayuth said that an election would take place in mid-2017 even if it had to be held under an old constitution.

"No matter whether the draft constitution passes the referendum or not, the government will hold the election in 2017 according to our roadmap," Prayuth, a former army chief who staged the 2014 coup, said.

The junta, known as the National Council for Peace and Order, has curbed dissent and pushed back the timetable for elections to 2017, raising concern about the prospects of a country that was for years hailed as a shining example of a fast-developing Asian economy.

Bangkok-based royalist-military establishment and populist former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his allies, who the establishment sees as a threat, are rivals at the heart of the fractious politics.

A decade of the fractious politics has included two coups, five elections and bouts of civil disobedience and street violence in which scores of people were killed.

A committee appointed by the junta prepared a draft for the country’s 20th constitution and is expected to unveil it on Friday.

In September, a military appointed “reform council” rejected a previous draft. This time, the government will put the draft to a referendum, which is expected in July although no date has been officially given.

Democracy activists and some political parties said that the charter would undermine the development of democracy and result in weak coalitions easily manipulated by the military.

Chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee Meechai Ruchupan said in an interview last week that the constitution was aimed at resolving long-lasting problems such as abuse of power by lawmakers.

Contentious articles include provisions that empower a Constitutional Court to intervene in political conflict, a partially or wholly appointed Senate and provisions for an unelected prime minister.

Prayuth did not give further information about why he wanted to hold an election even if the draft does not pass the referendum, but his remarks is likely to ease concern that a return to democracy could be repeatedly derailed.

"I promise that in July 2017 there will definitely be an election," he said.

TRTWorld and agencies