By: Our Correspondent


As fully expected, the Thai government’s promises of an election to end the reign of the junta that took power on May 22, 2014 keep receding into the distance. The deputy chairman of the National Legislative Assembly, the junta’s interim parliament, told reporters over the weekend that the earliest now that polls could be pulled off is early 2017.

It is hardly news. The date has been pushed back again and again.But the longer the junta delays a return to civilian rule, the more chance of growing rebellion on the streets, as has happened in the past when the military has stayed too long.  A bigger concern, however, is the economy, which the military is widely considered to have mismanaged.

“The big risk for the military government is the  weakening economy which is indeed in bad shape now,”said a Thai banking source.”On top of that, the drought is quite serious.”

Although real GDP is expected to increase by up to 3.5 percent in 2015, primarily due to lower oil prices, increased tourism receipts and higher public spending, according to the World Bank — still below trend for the region — exports  are expected to continue to slow, in part to eroding competitiveness. Exports on average grew 13 percent per year from 2006 – 2011, before slowing to less than 1 percent from 2012-2014. Thailand’s market share in world exports has declined correspondingly.

There is also growing irritation over widespread rumors – unproven –that despite public promises of a cleanup of corruption, the junta is spiriting hundreds of millions of dollars out of the country and into Singaporean banks.

The political temperature has undeniably been rising. A military court in early July released 14 students who held a June 27 anti-coup protest in defiance of a ban on public gatherings. While the court didn’t drop the charges outright, there had been widespread calls for their release, including internationally, and there were public shows of support for the students in Thailand itself despite the year-long draconian crackdown on dissent.

“There is a general disappointment as time is going on with those I talk to,” said a western academic based in southern Thailand. “The biggest problem is that business is stalling and people are starting to be hurt. The rhetoric about Thaksin is getting weaker now.”

The junta says it is planning a referendum for a new Constitution in February of 2016. But “I believe that we won’t be able to hold a referendum in early 2016, because, according to the procedures, we have to print and send charter drafts to 80 percent of all households, which are about 28 million households,” said Peerasak Porchit, the legislative assembly’s deputy chairman, according to the website Khaosod English. “That will take a lot of time.”

There is widespread recognition behind the scenes that no charter drafted by the junta would be accepted by the millions of recalcitrant voters still steaming over the ouster of the democratically elected Pheu Thai government led by army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, who named himself prime minister. Successive governments backed from overseas by ousted and exiled onetime Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who remains in Dubai, have handily won every election since he was driven from power in 2006. The voters who put those surrogate governments in power – only to see them ousted by the courts or coups – are unlikely to vote a charter that the military will hand them.

“Human rights and democracy in Thailand are dying a death of a thousand cuts and delays – and this latest sign of further sliding in the NCPO’s supposed ‘road-map to democracy’ justifies critics who have said all along that the junta is playing a game to prolong its dictatorial rule,” said Philip Robertson, the Human Rights Watch deputy director for Southeast Asia. “No one believes the NCPO’s rhetoric that it is returning happiness to the Thai people, who are facing expanded restrictions on their rights and a failing economy that the generals apparently have little knowledge or capacity to deal with.  The unanswered question is when do the Thai people say enough is enough, and what happens then?”

The most recent election took place in February of 2013, when Thaksin’s sister Yingluck called a snap poll to attempt to thwart growing chaos on the streets fomented by the royalists. Knowing it would be impossible to win, the luckless opposition Democrat Party, which has never won an outright majority in an election, boycotted this one, and protesters led by the southern Thai warlord Suthep Thaugsuban blockaded voting stations in parts of Bangkok and in 14 southern provinces.  Eventually a court voided the election.