|Thailand Analytical Update | January 24, 2019
Authors: Riley Smith, Ella Duangkaew, David Mineo
On January 23, Thailand’s Election Commission (EC) announced that the long-awaited general election will be held on March 24. The announcement came in response to a royal decree issued by His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn and signed by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha that same day. By law, the EC had five days following the release of the royal decree (available here) to announce the election date. The newly confirmed date has resulted in only a month’s delay, following the Government’s previous claim that the election would be held on February 24, and still falls within the constitutionally-mandated 150-day window that started last December 11, with the implementation of the organic law on the election of MPs, and closes on May 9. While the delay has caused some uncertainty surrounding the Government’s ability to adhere to the election roadmap, the publication of the royal decree makes it likely that the election will proceed on schedule, particularly because the new date removes any possibility of conflict with the coronation activities, which are to take place May 4-6.
According to Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, the March 24 date will allow political parties enough time for election campaigning. EC Chairman Ithiporn Boonprakong stated that candidates are scheduled to register from February 4-8, and that their names will be revealed to the public on February 15. Political parties can also nominate up to three candidates for Prime Minister during this period. Absentee voters will be able to cast their votes from March 4-16. Chairman Ithiporn indicated that the date on which election results would be announced was still under deliberation. A timeline of important dates surrounding the election can be found at the end of the Update.
The election announcement comes after seven delays and much anticipation from the general public, as it has been nearly five years since the current military-led government came into power on May 22, 2014. A graphic summarizing the timeline since the government transition in 2014 to the present day can be found here. The most recent delay was attributed to a potential scheduling conflict with the May 4-6 coronation ceremony of King Maha Vajiralongkorn, which will have activities surrounding it from April 19-May 19. For more background on the most recent delay, see our Analytical Update here.
Over the last several weeks, the number of public gatherings to demand confirmation of the election date had increased, as there continued to be a lack of clarity on if, much less when, elections might take place following initial announcements that the polls would be delayed to accommodate the coronation ceremony. According to CNN, the March 24 election will constitute the first poll held in the country in eight years. Thais will be voting for the 500-seat House of Representatives, while the Government will appoint the 250 Senate members, as laid out in the new 2017 constitution. The party that has the majority across the House and Senate will then select a Prime Minister.
This system will require any party that wins the majority of the House to align itself with the selected members of the Senate, likely resulting in a coalition government if that party is not presently supportive of the current Government. In announcing the election date, the Government has urged Thais to remain calm and civil during the polling period and coronation activities. The Government is allowing for political campaigning and presentation of policy platforms, following a long-anticipated full lift of the ban on political activities in December 2018, but is cautioning that any sort of unrest that could trigger political instability would be forbidden.
Current Cabinet ministers planning to run under the Palang Pracharath Party—a party supportive of the current Government and headed by current Minister of Industry Uttama Savanayana—are to resign their posts at an undeclared appropriate time, according to Minister Kobsak Pootrakool, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office. This includes the Science and Technology Minister Suvit Maesincee and Commerce Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong. Mr Kobsak, who will also assume a leadership position in the Palang Pracharath Party as official spokesman, expects the new government to “be in place by the middle of this year.” Thai law requires the EC “to endorse the winning members of parliament within 60 days of a vote, and parliament to convene within 15 days of the results.”
While the candidates on the ballot will not be officially announced until February 15, it is widely known that the major parties participating in the election will be the Phalang Pracharath Party, the Democratic Party, led by former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, and the Pheu Thai Party, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s party and currently led by former Deputy Prime Minister Viroj Pao-In. In order for a party to control the National Assembly, it must hold a majority across both the House and the Senate. Consequently, any party that wins the majority in the House will need to align itself with the Senators selected by the current government. It appears unlikely that Pheu Thai or the Democrats could win an overall majority in the National Assembly, meaning either party would most likely need to form a coalition government with the Senate. Former Prime Minister Abhisit, and leader of the Democratic Party, has expressed openness to a coalition government with a party that “takes the country in the right direction.”
Regardless, it remains unclear when a new Government will be in place in Thailand, and there are concerns that a later election date could lead to further delays to the 2019 ASEAN Calendar. The Thai Government has already pushed back the ASEAN Leaders’ Summit to late June to accommodate the Government transition; it may need to be delayed further, as a new Government will most likely only be in place as soon as June. According to the Nation, some ASEAN diplomats have expressed concern over Thailand’s ability to serve as ASEAN Chair for 2019 and host the various official meetings, while also smoothly managing the elections. There is some precedence for political unrest in Thailand disrupting ASEAN activities, as when the 2009 ASEAN Summit in Pattaya was cancelled due to political protests. There is the possibility that Thailand may opt to host only one Leaders’ Summit, should it require more time for the new Government to settle in post-elections. Thus, while it is encouraging that there is clarity regarding the election date, there is still much ambiguity surrounding the outcome of the elections and the timing of the ASEAN Calendar post-elections.
Key Dates of Thailand’s 2019 General Election: