Failure to pass two laws amending the country’s voting process is not only a possibility but also very much fraught with danger, one that is being openly alluded to by key government ministers such as Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam. The surreal situation is bound to leave the country’s largest political party Pheu Thai facing a dilemma when it lays down a no-confidence motion against the government next week, a vote the government is by no means assured of winning and which could torpedo the passage of the two laws leading to a crisis.
On Sunday, 35-year-old Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the Pheu Thai Party’s potential standard-bearer in a General Election, this year, called on her party and the voting public to seek out a landslide win for the former ruling party and Thailand’s largest. She led a call to modernise the country and save it from what she termed the ‘backwardness’ and incompetence of the current administration. It comes with all parties, now in pre-election mode but with the growing danger of the country being thrown into a political crisis or ‘stalemate’ according to senior ministers if proposed new voting laws are either killed off or do not make it through the parliamentary process in their current form.
On Sunday, in a rousing speech to the faithful of the Pheu Thai Party in Bangkok, the daughter of ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, Paetongtarn Shinawatra, urged the party’s members and the voting public to give the party a landslide in the next election.
Ms Paetongtarn told her audience that her party represented Thailand’s silent majority and had the resources and the ability to bring the country out of what she terms the backward nature of Thailand’s current environment.
She said the Pheu Thai Party would push for the kingdom to embrace a fully digital economy, allow Thai entrepreneurs and young startups to compete across the world and introduce liberalisation measures when it comes to cryptocurrency trading and new technologies.
Paetongtarn Shinawatra promises Pheu Thai will enhance Thailand’s soft power abroad and build a modern future for young people by promoting talent
In a week in which Thailand, as a nation, hailed rap star Milli or Danupha ‘Milli’ Khanatheerakul for her groundbreaking Mango and sticky rice performance at the US Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, the 35-year-old included this in her message to her party faithful as she promised to power the kingdom’s soft power and young talent abroad.
Give us the power and we will transform Thailand for young people and by power, we mean a majority in the House of Representatives. That was the message.
Two former premiers looked on from Dubai
The Pheu Thai Party is the latest manifestation of pro-Thaksin parties that have been removed from power on three occasions since 2001 either by court order or a military coup in a period of continued political instability that saw the armed forces intervene and take power on two occasions in 2006 and 2014 while suspending the constitution and seeking to write a new charter.
Speaking on Sunday to the party faithful, as she promised to stop the brain drain of talent out of Thailand, her speech was watched both by her aunt, Yingluck Shinawatra, who swept to power with Pheu Thai in 2011 and her father, Thaksin Shinawatra, who won power in 2001 and 2005 and was the only democratically elected Thai prime minister to win a second term with the Thai Rak Thai Party which was subsequently disbanded by the courts after he was removed from power in the 2006 coup.
Both watched her speech and sent supportive greetings from Dubai.
All will go awry if new voting laws are altered or lost as they make their passage through parliament
Another Pheu Thai Party landslide is still very unlikely to happen if the government is brought down, a snap election is called or the process of amending the voting laws being passed through parliament delivers a modified proposal or even if the country finds itself stuck in the quagmire of a constitutional and political crisis, something that is already being openly alluded to by senior government ministers despite a concerted effort in the last week to deny that things could well go awry.
Poll supports retention of the one ballot election process which would torpedo Pheu Thai landslide hopes
Over the weekend, as the Pheu Thai Party prepared for what it considers to be a pending election, the party’s Secretary-general Mr Prasert Chanthararuangthong, an MP for Nakhon Ratchasima, confirmed that a no-confidence motion was ready to be tabled in the next week against the government.
Pheu Thai Party Secretary-general confident that the government can be defeated in new censure motion
He said he had reason to be confident, disclosing that his party had information and political ammunition which will deliver a knockout blow in parliament when the censure motion is heard after the House of Representatives reconvenes therefore precipitating a General Election.
The government’s ability to survive the latest censure motion may be also complicated by any move from smaller parties within the coalition to vote against it motivated by a desire to preserve the current one ballot system or a move to settle old scores now that the life of the government is drawing to a close in any event.
A Pheu Thai Party landslide depends on the current new voting laws in parliament, which would bring back a two ballot system and limit party list seats to 100 from 150 in 2019.
These laws passed the first reading in parliament in September 2021 but their final passage in their current state and format is not at all assured.
Chairman of the house panel reviewing the new laws Satit Pitutacha says the country could be facing a ‘stalemate’ if the legal provisions are lost
The Chairman of the panel reviewing the amendments to the two organic laws concerning voting in the next election, Satit Pitutacha warned, this week, that the country could be facing a political stalemate if it faces the prospect of an election without completing their passage through parliament including a third and final reading and promulgation of the provisions.
The admission follows similar pronouncements by Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam and comes as the Pheu Thai Party has clarified that it will lay down a motion of no confidence in the government before parliament reconvenes on May 22nd.
An ‘unacceptable’ situation may be developing
A defeat for the government in a censure motion would almost certainly torpedo the passage of the new voting laws which Mr Satit, the junior Minister of Public Health and Chairman of the panel scrutinising the critical legislation says will take at least until June or July to be fully finalised with the coalition government-controlled panel expected to finish its deliberations before parliament reopens on May 22nd or close to that date.
‘These two laws are essential to organising polls in case a snap election is called, which is one of the political options open to the prime minister,’ Minister Satit explained. ‘So the tools must be ready for a political situation that might arise. If the tools aren’t ready, we may face a stalemate. And if an executive decree has to be issued, it could be unacceptable.’
It is almost certain that if the government is brought down or parliament dissolved before the bills are officially promulgated then the country will face a political crisis.
Conduct of the next General Election will be thrown into confusion and become subject to legal challenge
This is likely to see the next election fought with the previous one ballot system by order of the outgoing government, a system identical to the last election but one whose legal basis will be open to legal challenge.
An election fought on this basis, like in 2019, would be far more likely to return smaller parties and a fractured house which would find itself dominated by the fact that the upper house or Senate still has a vote on the election of a prime master, a provision that only expires in 2024.
Other distinct possibilities tend towards a stalemate.
First, the ongoing deliberations of the panel or the passage of the bills may be delayed or the voting provisions themselves altered radically from the bill passed only in a first reading in September 2021 which would be perfectly legal under parliamentary procedure.
This could for instance see a direct election of 400 constituency seats and party-list seats controlled by one ballot.
Election Commission may find itself at the centre of a constitutional crisis with new rules required
Any stalemate would see responsibility to resolve the situation devolve to the country’s Election Commission, the courts and, of course, the caretaker government.
The other threat is a constitutional case that has been initiated by the New Palang Dharma Party which argues that the proposed laws on altering the voting process are, in themselves, entirely unconstitutional and fly in the face of the 2017 Constitution which was specifically designed to favour smaller parties and a more representative parliament.
The court may, in keeping with its other rulings on constitutional reform measures, insist that such changes have to be put to the people by referendum.
It is not known yet whether this legal challenge will be taken up by the Constitutional Court but this in itself presents another challenge since the case will leave the country’s politics under a cloud of doubt and insecurity.
Little wonder that the government’s chief whip, Nirote Sunthornlekha, said in recent days that talk of a political accident or stalemate was bad for the country’s image among external investors.
Many commentators and political operators this week came out to talk down any prospect of an ‘incident’
It comes in a week when political spokespeople linked with the government have pointedly played down the prospect of a house dissolution, political incident or the possibility of the prime minister calling a snap General Election.
Many suggest confidently that the government will serve out a full term.
Nonetheless, political parties are now openly preparing for a national poll with the Pheu Thai this week strongly suggesting that it may not contest the Ratchaburi byelection made vacant by a decision of the Constitutional Court on April 7th to ban Palang Pracharat Party MP, Pareena Kraikupt, for life from politics over irregularities relating to land encroachment and the use of land in a forest reserve area near her home in the central province bordering Myanmar.
Panel is still working its way through amendments as time runs out for safe passage of the voting bills
In the meantime, the panel which is working its way through amendments to the two organic voting laws, passed last September, was not working during the Songkran holidays and has become bogged down in smaller debates such as the issue of primary voting procedures.
The latest deliberation was to consider whether people banned from politics should be allowed to form political parties, a proposal which was only defeated by twenty-four votes to nineteen with two abstentions.
The panel is controlled by the coalition government and its associated parties. It comprises cabinet ministers, MPs from coalition parties and opposition MPs.
Pheu Thai, the biggest winner from the laws
The Pheu Thai Party is strongly in favour of the final passage of the two bills which would give it an elevated chance of a landslide election win with a proposed two ballot voting system and fewer party-list seats.
This week, following the passage of the law in September, the Election commission published the proposed boundaries for the next poll showing 400 constituencies where 400 MPs will be directly elected in one ballot while a second ballot will determine 100 party-list seats.
The old one ballot system severely disadvantaged the Pheu Thai Party in the last election leaving it with no party-list seats when the results of the 2019 General Election were finally tallied.