As Thailand tries to resolve a debilitating political stalemate, five unelected officials have been armed with the power to over-rule its government in key areas and chart a route out of the mess left by this month’s disrupted election. For three-and-a-half months, protesters, mostly from Bangkok and the south, have been seeking to overthrow Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and rid the country of the influence of her brother, ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra. At the general election on February 2, the protesters disrupted polling or blocked candidates from registering in almost 70 of the 375 voting constituencies, leaving the new House of Representatives without the required quorum of members. That means Yingluck’s Puea Thai Party government will continue on a caretaker basis, despite almost certainly winning a majority, until elections are held to fill the remaining seats.
The resulting stalemate has thrown the spotlight on the five-man Election Commission. The members – three former judges, an academic and a former worker at an NGO – now rank among the most powerful individuals in the Southeast Asian nation, a $320 billion economy.
The commission’s main role is to ensure the smooth running of elections in Thailand. But with a caretaker government in Bangkok, its powers range far beyond that.
The commission’s approval is necessary for government operations like the allocation of certain funds from the central budget and the reshuffle or transfer of high-ranking officials.