Thai Government slammed again by critics
Critics slam government for use of article 44 as harming democracy while weakening existing political parties by essentially resetting playing field
DESPITE the junta leader’s claim to promote an inclusive democracy, the new Article 44 order to extend deadlines for political party activity would instead make a November election “impossible” and weaken public participation in the political system, observers and academics said yesterday.
On Friday, Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha issued an order under his absolute powers to amend the existing Political Party Act, giving the main reason as the need to extend the deadlines required for parties to follow ahead of the election.
The junta’s ban against political gatherings of five or more people has stopped parties from holding meetings or making other official moves. Although the order is claimed to “facilitate” parties, it requires members of existing parties to submit “verifying membership documents” to their party headquarters.
“This process will be no different from resetting all of parties’ memberships,” said Prinya Thaewanarumitkul, a law professor and vice rector at Thammasat University.
As the Article 44 order rules that party members should not be subject to stipulations regarding disqualification according to the Political Party Act’s Article 24, this means that any members wishing to verify their membership will have to prepare a lot of paperwork.
Prinya said this would not only encourage people to set up new parties, but allow prospective MP candidates to shift sides easily. The order, while allowing parties to hold meetings, still only gave permission on a “necessity basis” to prepare administrative procedures.
This did not truly give liberty to parties, he added.
Outgoing election commissioner Somchai Srisutthiyakorn said that it would be impossible to hold an election by November next year, despite Prayut’s earlier promise, if parties followed the new timeline stipulated in the Article 44 order.
“This order’s requirement will set new deadlines to fall in October,” Somchai said. “And this is only for the preparation process. It will be impossible to carry out the rest of process in only a month.”
Somchai said that this could leave room for small parties to propose a postponement of the election date.
“This order h as only come to soften the political blow, but it does not actually fix anything,” he added.
Jurin Laksanawisit, the Democrat Party’s deputy leader, said that it was not unusual for new parties to emerge in a post-coup election. “Some parties could directly belong to military men and some parties could be their nominees,” Jurin said.
“But for this coming election, there is no need to set up a party to become prime minister, as the charter allows an outsider to become PM. The [junta-handpicked] Senate will also have power to select the premier,” he said.
This order, he continued, would also weakening the membership of existing parties by making it harder to maintain their supporters, limiting the public’s opportunity to participate in the party system. “Membership is crucial to ensure political institutions such as political parties,” he said.
Chavalit Witchayasuth, Pheu Thai Party’s former deputy secretary-general, said Prayut’s use of absolute powers not only degraded the legitimacy of the legislative system by changing the already royally-endorsed law, it also disrespected people by practically resetting all parties.
They were speaking at a forum titled “How the country has reached this point: The constitution and the first election to democracy” held at the Thai Journalists’ Association headquarters yesterday.