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Thailand to hold national elections on March 24

29 January 2019

29 January 2019

The government of Thailand announced last week that it will organize a long-overdue and widely anticipated general election on March 24 this year. Prayut Chan-o-cha, who proclaimed himself Prime Minister in May 2014 following a military coup, seems to be placing a bet that his National Council for Peace and Order will gain the support of the Thai population to lead the country to a period of increased social stability and more sustainable economic growth. 

Under Prayut’s rule, the self-proclaimed junta government initiated a severe crackdown on political and civil rights. Political activity seemed disadvantageous to the rule of his Party has been outlawed. Yet Prayut also promised upon his ascent to power in 2014 a return to democracy. This year, having come under increasingly great pressure from the international community and civil forces at home, the Thai population will be able to finally cast a vote on their future.

However, following a constitutional revision two years ago, national elections only extend to the country’s lower chamber. The upper chamber, which has the competence to veto proposed legislation, remains fully controlled by the military junta. The revised constitution also stipulates that the Prime Minister is elected by means of a joint simple majority vote of both parliamentary chambers – by extension, Prayut is only required to win 25% of the national vote in March to remain in charge. 

Similarly, the same constitutional revision also obliges all future governments to adhere to the current 20-year development plan adopted under the current regime in 2017; the all-encompassing plan may only be revised every 5 years with parliamentary approval by both chambers.

Nonetheless, the spokesperson of the EU diplomatic service last week welcomed the election announcement: “considering the lifting of restrictions placed on political activities last month as a positive starting point, we look forward to an open and peaceful election campaign, in which the freedom of expression needed for a democratic process is ensured.” Whether the campaign is open and peaceful and its conclusion truly democratic, however, remains to be seen.