|Thailand Analytical Update | January 10, 2019
Authors: Riley Smith, Ella Duangkaew
On January 10, the Thai Election Commission (EC) reported that it would be “impossible” to hold the elections on February 24, as January 10 is the last day that a royal decree can be issued in time for the elections to be held on that date. The royal decree, which allows for parties to officially begin campaigning and kicks off the EC’s tracking of their expenses, needs to be issued far enough in advance to allow for sufficient time for preparation and campaigning ahead of an election date. The EC requires a minimum of 45 days between when a royal decree is published and the election date. Election delays appeared likely on January 3 (around 52 days prior to February 24), when the Cabinet was originally supposed to issue the decree. However, the Cabinet announced that it was holding off because of a January 1 announcement that the highly-anticipated coronation of Rama X, King Maha Vajiralongkorn, would take place from May 4-6.
According to statements made on January 3 by Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, the election would likely be delayed so “post-poll activities” will not overlap with the coronation ceremony. Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu emphasized that the elections will lead to 10 specific post-poll political activities that need to take place during specific time periods, and these dates cannot be moved once the elections take place. For example, 95% of poll results must be announced within 60 days following the election date, and Parliament must convene its first meeting within 15 days following this 60-day deadline. In addition, the King must preside over the inaugural Parliament meeting. Given that the coronation date is un-movable, the polls may need to be delayed to prevent overlap of these activities with the coronation. The coronation will also have about 15 days of activities before and after (about one month of activities in total surrounding the ceremony), taking place from about April 19 to May 19, and the Government needs to ensure that election activities do not overlap with these as well. For example, if the elections were to take place on February 24, 95% of poll results will need to be announced by April 25, and the first Parliament meeting would need to take place on May 9; both dates would directly overlap with coronation activities.
The Deputy Prime Minister affirmed that the elections would be held no later than the May 9 deadline, which is stipulated by the constitution according to the organic laws that states the elections must take place 150 days after the organic bills are promulgated. The bills were promulgated on December 11, so the elections cannot take place any later than May 9. Elections must also take place on a Sunday, so the latest they could happen prior to the deadline is May 5.
As of January 6, the Election Commission (EC) has submitted a proposal to the Cabinet to move elections to March 10, which is still awaiting approval. If Cabinet agrees to the proposal, it must issue a royal decree with the election date by January 25 to be within the 45-day minimum. Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu noted that the Government still wants to give parties around 52 days to campaign, so the royal decree will need to be issued soon to allow for sufficient campaigning time.
This is now the seventh delay in the election. If moved to March 10, the delay will be relatively small (only about two weeks) and may not introduce too much upset. But if moved more than a month, there may be concern about the transparency and legitimacy of the election process. Since the announcement of a potential delay, politicians have not expressed much objection as long as the polls take place before May 9; their main concern is that the date be clarified as soon as possible so parties can make proper preparations. However, there was a civilian rally of around 200 people on January 8 to keep the February 24 election date, showing strong civilian opposition to further election delays. It is unclear at this point when the new date will be decided, as it currently rests on the Government’s acceptance of the EC’s proposal for a March 10 election date. However, it will be critical for the Government to make a decision as soon as possible to maintain its credibility and alignment with the election roadmap.