While most Thai analysts expect no major impact from the junta’s decision to delay the general election, international scholars have warned that foreign investors might lose confidence in the regime as Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), often failed to keep his word.
“The postponement of the general election will certainly have a negative impact on international confidence in the Prayuth administration,” said Yasuhito Asami of the Department of Global Politics at Hosei University in Tokyo.
Foreign investors have different views on whether holding the general election at the end of this year or next year will have a positive or negative influence on the Thai economy in the short term, Asami added. Regardless, many of them will consider the Prayuth administration untrustworthy, he said.
“General Prayuth has been breaking many of the promises he made. If he fails to hold a general election as he promised again, international investors will find it difficult to trust him to pursue other policies as he promised. International investors like predictability and hate uncertainty,” he said.
However, he added that the negative impact of the delay of the election would not be great, if the election is held in the early half of 2018. Most foreign investors understand that the royal succession is such an important event for Thais that it affects the government “road map” to democracy somewhat, said Asami, who has studied Thai affairs for many years and speaks fluent Thai.
“But if the election is postponed beyond mid-2018, it will seriously damage international investors’ confidence in Thailand and they will divert their investments to other countries,” the Japanese scholar said.
The economy has faced a slowdown since 2014 due to the international economic situation and the domestic management of the economy. While many are worried pushing the election back to next year will have repercussions for the economy, local economists remain optimistic.
Teerana Bhongmakapat, a former economics lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, said the delay would not inflict any major impact on the economy, and that any effects from the change to the road map will depend largely on the reasons behind it. “If it is for the best results of the organic law writing, investors would understand and so the postponement could have a positive impact,” Teerana said. “But if it is about not finishing the laws in time, investors could view the government as having a hidden agenda in delaying the election and so it might yield a negative impact.”
The economist, however, added that the key was stability, rather than the election. Investors could accept anything so long as there was stability in the country, he said.
Pairoj Wongwipanon, former dean of Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Economics, shares a similar viewpoint, saying that the business sector might not be serious about the election. Those who know Thailand will not look at any change in the administration. They look more at the government’s performance and policies, he said.
In the first week of the year, when the road map was supposed to be in its final stage, the junta revealed that the related legislation might not be completed in time to allow an election this year. And after redoing the maths, it said it could be 20 months before the poll could be carried out. It insists, however, that “everything is following the road map”.
While the road map might be slightly different from the so-called 6-4-6-4 roadmap the junta said it followed two years ago, some political critics expressed understanding towards the situation. Trakoon Meechai, a former political science lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, and Suriyasai Katasila, deputy dean at Rangsit University’s College of Social Innovation, said they understood the reasons for the change and anticipated people in general would also accept it as a necessity. The delay would not cause political tension, Trakoon said. The situations facing the country, such as the legislation related to the road map and the royal cremation, make the deferment explainable, he said.
Politicians will not complain because it would be difficult to campaign in an election anyway when people are still mourning, he said. The delay should make the situation better as political parties have more time to prepare for the election and adapt to the new rules before the election, he added.
However Sunai Phasuk, senior researcher on Thailand at Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, and Sirote Klampaiboon, an independent scholar, warned the government of the Kingdom’s reputation being possibly tarnished and of a backlash for breaking its promise regarding the election.
Though the circumstances for the delay are understandable, Thailand in the eyes of the international community remains a country governed by a coup regime, Sunai said. “With such a regime, the country is viewed as suffering arbitrary repression and abuse especially in the human rights area,” he said.
Human rights advocate Sunai expected there to be pressure on the government from the international community. As the government had made promises to foreigners about the election but failed to keep its word, Sunai said its credibility would inevitably be undermined. However, he said what was more important than the election was the political environment prior to it.
When the country’s foreign friends tolerated the election delay, they expressed the importance of the atmosphere that should be fostered under future democratic rule, Sunai said. Sirote said frustration would grow among those people who had been silently tolerant in the belief that the election would happen. “In the big picture, certainty in politics now lies in the road map. But then, it just keeps changing, resulting in uncertainty” he said.
And as the road map’s significance is the scheme for the return of a civilian rule and it gets endlessly extended, the question now is whether or not we will ever have a civilian government.”
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