In a move that surprised few seasoned observers, Thailand’s ruling junta signaled on Wednesday that an election to restore democracy in the country initially scheduled for this year would once again be postponed to 2018.
“One year from today, there’ll be elections,” Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam told reporters in the first public confirmation by the government that polls would not take place this year as expected.
Since the military junta assumed power in a coup in May 2014, much-anticipated elections have repeatedly been delayed – first into 2016 and then 2017. The original timeframe given early last year was mid-2017 as part of a 20-month process called the “6-4-6-4 road map to democracy,” where the government would have six months to draft a new constitution, four months to hold a referendum on it, six months to draft organic laws to support the constitution, and four months to campaign ahead of the election (See: “Thailand’s Junta Chief Pledges New Elections in 2017”).
But the death of long-revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej in October last year threw a spanner in the works. Given the one-year period of official mourning for the late king as well as the need to ensure a smooth transition for his son and successor Maha Vajiralongkorn, few expected that polls would still be held this year.
And so it has now proved. Indeed, Wissanu said that an exact timeframe could not be clearly laid out because even though a new constitution has been adopted and then approved in a referendum last year, the new king had asked for several changes to clauses related to royal powers. That, he explained, would require an amended version to be submitted for royal endorsement, likely later this month, following which the king would have 90 days to approve it.
If that is indeed how things unfold, the constitution would be approved by mid-May, leaving around ten months for the drafting of organic laws to support the constitution and four months to campaign in line with the old roadmap outlined by the junta. That would put polls at around March 2018, just a bit over the early February date given by Wissanu.
Whether or not that will actually be the case, however, remains to be seen. More broadly, as I have emphasized before, while it is important to pay attention to Thailand’s election timetable, it is also key to question the extent to which the holding of these polls will actually matter (See: “Why Thailand’s Next Election May Not Matter”).