The key question that may determine the outcome of the election will be the voting system used with the fate of two bills being progressed through parliament very much holding the key to that. This week, the leader of the Pheu Thai Party estimated that the bills should be finalised by July although many astute political observers doubt very much whether the election voting laws, as they are currently framed, handing the voting advantage to the Pheu Thai Party, will make it through the parliamentary process before the House of Representatives is dissolved.
The country’s opposition parties in parliament have decided to defer their motion of confidence when parliament reopens at the end of May in favour of prioritising the passage of key voting laws which they hope will give them the whip hand in the next General Election. On both sides of the political divide, it is now agreed that an election will be called by the end of 2022 which will be fought in the opening months of 2023.
The country’s main opposition parties led by the Pheu Thai Party disclosed this week that they intend to defer a planned motion of no confidence in the government to give priority to the passage of two key electoral bills before the house.
These are in the process of being reviewed by a government-controlled committee examining proposed amendments, a process which is expected to be complete by May 24th.
The bills will then have a second and third reading before they can be enacted into law and promulgated giving the country a clear set of tools with which to conduct the next General Election.
Failure to pass the bills will lead to a crisis or political stalemate and their passage will become a key issue when parliament reopens on May 22nd
Senior officials such as the Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam and the Chairman of the committee reviewing amendments to the laws, Deputy Minister of Public Health Satit Pitutacha, have suggested in recent weeks that a failure to pass the two voting provisions would lead the country to face a political crisis or stalemate.
Pheu Thai calls for a landslide win but a crisis is a rising prospect if new voting laws flounder in parliament
On Monday last, the leader of the Pheu Thai Party, Cholnan Srikaew confirmed that the opposition will not file a motion of no confidence against the government which had been expected in advance of the reopening of parliament on May 22nd until the two bills are enacted into law.
Opposition leaders say the government will not last long after the two voting bills are passed into law
Despite this, the opposition party leader and MP from Nan province predicted that the current government is unlikely to survive for long after the passage of the key measures.
He pointed out that as well as the motion of no confidence, the opposition parties can also attack the government on the details of the Budget for the next fiscal year and that a possible seminal moment in Thai politics was approaching in August when, according to some constitutional law experts, the official term of the Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha will expire as he will have been eight years in the office at that time.
Constitutional issue over the Prime Minister’s term of office which may be due to expire in August 2022
However, this is a matter of legal interpretation that could ultimately have to be decided by the courts as other experts including government legal eagle Wissanu Krea-ngam suggest that the term of the Prime Minister only commenced after he was appointed premier by the King under the current constitution which came into effect in 2017 with a first General Election in 2019 with various arguments as to when the Prime Minister’s term of office under the charter commenced at that point.
Section 158 of the constitution states: ‘The Prime Minister shall not hold office for more than eight years in total, whether or not holding consecutive terms. However, it shall not include the period during which the Prime Minister carries out duties after vacating office.’
The last line may be interpreted by supporters of General Prayut as suggesting that periods of office outside the official terms of office under the charter including interim or caretaker periods in office, may not be included in the eight-year term which would normally begin when a prime minister was first elected to office by parliament and then appointed by the King under the current charter.
Deputy PM Wongsuman reluctantly conceded that Palang Pracharat Party may need another candidate
The problems posed by the August deadline which could see the prime minister ousted by a challenge to the Constitutional Court was conceded this week by his stalwart friend, colleague and leader of the Palang Pracharat Party, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan when he reluctantly told reporters that the Palang Pracharat Party may have to consider another candidate for prime minister if matters went against General Prayut on the question of a constitutional impediment to his remaining in office.
Initially irritable as reporters questioned the party leader’s steadfast line on its candidate for prime minister, he was forced to concede, under strong questioning, that he did not know and that another candidate may be needed.
‘General Prayut is the candidate. I have said this for a long time. Don’t ask again,’ he said gruffly but when confronted with the constitutional unknown he said: ‘I don’t know yet. Maybe.’
Pheu Thai Party leader says 30 MPs ready to defect
Speaking to reporters this week, Mr Cholnan also suggested that if the government was defeated in the Budget Bill or a No Confidence motion then it would be brought down but also conceded that the initial authority to call an election or dissolve the House of Representatives rests with the prime minister.
The opposition leader said a Budget Bill will be submitted in early June and that in late June or early July he expected that the new voting bills could be passed by the house.
At that point, he foresaw that at least 30 MPs currently with the government will switch sides and inflict defeat on the coalition which has ruled since 2019 in a vote of no confidence.
Pheu Thai Party unlikely to topple government if voting laws are still in the process of being passed
He admitted that the Pheu Thai Party was unlikely to bring down the government as long as the voting provisions were making their way through the house as it would cause a crisis with no legal basis to support the voting process in the next election.
It should be noted that many political pundits predict that the voting laws, at least as currently framed and drafted, will not make it through the second and third readings as the bills are likely to hand the key to a General Election victory to the Pheu Thai Party particularly with the government parties floundering in the latest polls.
Poll supports retention of the one ballot election process which would torpedo Pheu Thai landslide hopes
These same polls also, at the end of March, showed the public supports the previous single ballot vote which favours smaller parties.
Officials, briefing MPs, have been telling them to prepare for an election to be called late in the year
In the meantime, top government officials and ministers have been briefing MPs associated with the coalition.
They are confidently predicting that the House of Representatives will be dissolved by the end of this year and that an election will be called for early 2023 before the term of the present government expires in March 2023.
Many of the political parties are already in election mode preparing to select candidates while organising election strategies and networks throughout the kingdom for when the poll is called.
The last national opinion poll published at the end of March and conducted by the National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA), showed both the Pheu Thai Party and Move Forward Party well ahead at that point with a combined vote share of nearly 42% while the front runners for both parties in the choice for prime minister, Pita Limjaroenrat of Move Forward and Paetongtarn Shinawatra of Pheu Thai were among the top three along with General Prayut.
Government parties are languishing in the polls
The Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat led the field with 13.42% followed by General Prayut with 12.67% and Ms Paetongtarn, who has not been nominated as a candidate, nevertheless accounting for 12.53% of preferences.
The ruling Palang Pracharat Party only had 7.03% support, the same as the Democrat Party which has been rocked and severely undermined in the last two weeks with the scandal of the party’s former deputy leader Prinn Panitchpakdi who has been charged with multiple counts of rape and indecency by police amid a rising number of complaints from women to investigating police
The scandal has led to mass resignations from the party and placed its leader, Minister of Commerce and Deputy Prime Minister Jurin Laksanawisit under pressure politically to resign.
The third major political party in the coalition government, the Bhumjaithai Party is languishing with only 1.88% support.