Many of those involved with the current political process and standoff are suffering from fatigue not only at the insuperable obstacles and differences between the two sides of the struggle but also the weight of history. Thailand has been down this road so many times before, in a never-ending cycle, which begins with a new charter and ends with a coup d’etat.
Thai Prime Minister, Prayut Chan ocha, was pressing the flesh in Phuket on Tuesday as his cabinet addressed the economic problems of the area and across southern Thailand. In Bangkok, parliamentarians were still trying to breathe life into an agreed proposal for a reconciliation committee to resolve the kingdom’s political struggle amid increasingly insistent calls for the PM to step down and for the process to include discussion on reform of the monarchy.
Thailand’s Speaker of the House of Representatives, Chuan Leekpai, on Tuesday attempted to move the proposal for a national reconciliation process forward. The former prime minister took delivery of a set of proposals for the process put forward by the King Prajadhipok’s Institute which outlined how it might work.
The proposed process is reported to be based on two models, one being a panel of representatives from all sides of the conflict while the other was for appointed middlemen representing various groups or parties.
Mr Chuan told reporters that he would consider both options and that it may be possible to alter or combine both ideas after further discussion.
Phone calls with former prime ministers who iterated support for the proposed reconciliation process
He also revealed that he had made phone calls to three former Thai prime ministers who backed the proposal to try to convene a reconciliation committee to attempt to solve the kingdom’s political problems amid a tense standoff between the entrenched government of General Prayut Chan ocha and student-led protesters who have dominated the streets in the last four months.
The three former prime ministers are General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh (1996-97), Anand Panyarachun (1991-1992) and Abhisit Vejjajiva (2011-2013).
All have voiced their support for the plan although it is not clear whether all three will play a role in the process.
It was reported that General Chavalit had not ruled out being chairman of the panel while the House Speaker, Mr Chuan, also a former PM, has ruled himself out of this role.
Thailand has been down this road so many times before in a nation that is divided politically
The problem for lawmakers, and all concerned, is that Thailand has been down this road many times before. It almost feels like reconciliation processes and efforts to write charters or constitutions are as common in Thailand as military coups except that they are not.
This has produced even more scepticism and distrust on both sides.
For General Prayut and his government, while being open to reform of the charter in some aspects, the 2017 Constitution, was the culminating achievement of the junta’s period in power from 2014 to 2019 paving the way for last year’s General Election which was seen by conservatives as a success.
The 2017 Constitution was seen as a response to large scale street demonstrations by yellow shirt protesters in 2013 and 2014 calling for democratic reform or a reset of democracy to counter what they saw as the corruption of the political system by moneyed interests.
For today’s opposition and street protesters, the current constitution is the crux of the problem.
Growing pressure on the PM to resign
The one thing that is for certain is that there is growing pressure on the Prime Minister, Prayut Chan ocha, to resign despite his insistence that he will not abandon his position at a time when the country faces the threat of Covid-19 and multiple crises including economic and political challenges.
The problem for the PM is that the opposition, both on the streets and in parliament, is casting his tenure and the 2017 Constitution which he oversaw and guided into place, as the source of the current problems not to mention the 2014 coup.
Largest political party, Pheu Thai, rigidly insists it will not take part in the reconciliation process without General Prayut’s resignation from office
Pheu Thai, the kingdom’s largest political party and which was emasculated electorally under the 2017 Constitution and its election procedure, continues to firmly reject taking part in the reconciliation process despite the dismissal of the party’s stance by the House Speaker, Mr Chuan, last week.
Pheu Thai secretary-general, Prasert Chanruangthong, articulated the party’s view on the issue in recent days when he said this about the prime minister’s position: ‘As long as he stays, the problems will remain unsolved, while tension escalates and becomes harder and harder to control.’
Key protest leader Anon Nampa: ‘It is his lack of legitimacy and ideas that are causing the trouble’
This point of view was emphasised by key protest leader, poet and human rights campaigner, Anon Nampa, this week, when the imprisoned activist was quoted on a social media discussion: ‘It is almost a consensus that the only way out is to oust Prayut because it is his lack of legitimacy and ideas that are causing the trouble.’
The government has indicated that it is happy to pursue the proposed reconciliation process and has welcomed the proposals formulated by the King Prajadhipok’s Institute.
General Prayut warmly welcomed in Phuket
Wirat Rattanaset, the government chief whip set out his stall saying that this did not include any consideration being given to the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha who is busy addressing the nation’s problems.
On Tuesday, General Prayut was in Phuket where a cabinet meeting was held to address the challenges facing the island and southern Thailand, currently reeling from the closure of Thailand’s foreign tourism industry.
General Prayut received a warm welcome from the crowd who thanked him for his efforts in defending the country from the Covid-19 menace.
Government whip says that Prime Minister Prayut was elected by a majority of the electorate in the 2019 General Election when voted into office
Mr Wirat pointed to the fact that the prime minister was elected by a majority of the electorate to his post in June 2019 at a meeting of parliament.
66-year-old Prayut Chan ocha, former army chief and coup leader, was elected Prime Minister by the combined Thai parliamentary assembly of the Senate and the House of Representatives by 500 votes to 244 on June 5th 2019 following the March 24th General Election.
His coalition government assumed office in mid-July last year but has been seen by its opponents as a continuation of military power in Thailand with many who are not elected MPs in cabinet playing key roles, including the prime minister himself.
Position of the political parties may become crucial in resolving the standoff at some point in the tension
The crucial question now is how can the impasse between both sides be broken.
Not only is there the question of the resignation of the prime minister but also there is the thorny issue of constitutional reform of the monarchy which the student-led protesters are insisting upon and which is supported in parliament by the progressive Move Forward Party.
It may be that ultimately the matter will be decided with growing pressure from the streets, a coup of some sort, a continuous crackdown or a move within the ruling parliamentary parties including Palang Pracharat or the two key coalition partners, Bhumjaithai and the Democrat parties, at some critical point.
However, all eyes remain on the beleaguered prime minister as he attempts to engineer an economic recovery from the Covid-19 emergency and a breakout from a tight political bind which increasingly places him in the role of the fall guy who must sacrifice himself for the greater good of the nation.