After essentially telling the nation that the military junta’s “election” was off the much-touted “road map,” the Bangkok Post reports that an unnamed source says the junta was “preparing to hold local elections this year as it wants to ‘test the waters’ ahead of the national election expected next February…”.
We have doubts about this “source” and the claims. For one thing, almost no-one expects an election in February. For another, talks about local elections are not new, but have gone missing for several months. It was back in November that Wissanu Krea-ngam said local elections would be held within 45 days of bills to amend six laws relating to regional governing bodies being enacted.
We have heard little about those bills and laws. This report states that “the Council of State, which is the government’s legal advisory body, has finished scrutinising six legislative bills relating to local elections.” They would then go to the junta’s cabinet and then to the National Legislative Assembly before going through the formal approval process.
If that is true, it would mean that local elections could probably be held – if the junta so decrees – by very late this year or early next year. And, that could easily delay national elections even further.
The most recent mumbling about local elections “comes as the government [junta] is likely to reinstate several more local leaders put on suspension pending corruption probes in what is seen by critics as a ploy to achieve political aims at the general election.”
Another unnamed source, this one at the Election Commission, said the junta has ordered the Local Administration Department, which is under the authority of Gen Anupong Paojinda, “to prepare local elections as the government [junta] wanted to assess local support for the government [junta] and parties.”
As it was several months ago, local polls are seen as a way to “ease public calls for a speedy return to democracy.” According to this source, “the results of local elections will be factored in when the government [junta] makes a decision to hold the general election…”.
Given that most political parties are unable to do much at all at present, local elections would be easy for the regime to control and manipulate and would be a chance for it to promote pro-junta parties ahead of the national election it plans for them to “win.” It would also be an opportunity for the junta to ensure it has its people in administrative place for controlling national elections at the local level.
In this context, should local elections be held, the real fight will be to prevent the junta from expanding its bootprint even further at the local level.