Emotional Prime Minister, on Wednesday, gave a speech at an army song contest in central Bangkok at which he urged unity in a world full of conflict. It comes as an eight-year deadline approaches on Tuesday 23rd August, a date after which many constitutional experts and the opposition claim his period in office must expire.
Outgoing government spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana repeatedly told reporters on Wednesday that there were no plans to dissolve the House of Representatives after the country’s political rumour mill ran wild when opposition parties submitted a request for a Constitutional Court review of the Prime Minister’s term and regulations were published by the Election Commission detailing the limited role of any caretaker cabinet.
Thailand’s constitutional crisis stepped up a gear on Wednesday after the leader of the opposition and Pheu Thai Party leader, Dr Cholnan Srikaew, together with several other opposition party leaders including Pita Limjaroenrat, the leader of the progressive Move Forward Party and smaller parties in parliament submitted an official petition to the President of the Parliament, Chuan Leekpai, to be presented to the Constitutional Court regarding the matter of the tenure of Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha under Section 158 of the constitution which they are requesting the court to examine.
This provision limits the maximum term of any prime minister to 8 years.
For years now, opinions have been divided as to on which date General Prayut’s term began as the current constitution became effective while he was already in the role in 2017.
Opposition and legal experts say the Prime Minister must vacate the office after Tuesday 23rd August
The opposition and many constitutional experts including Dr Pornsan Raising Boonlertchai, a lecturer at the Faculty of Law at Chulalongkorn University, affirm convincingly that the PM’s term began on the 24th of August 2019 when he assumed the position as Head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) which seized power in a coup on the 22nd May 2014.
Under this interpretation, the Prime Minister’s term is due to expire at midnight on the 23rd of August 2022, only days from now.
Other interpretations of the constitution advanced by supporters of General Prayut and other academics attest that his term began on the 6th of April 2017 when the 2017 Constitution came into force and the existing cabinet, at that time, took power under its terms while another interpretation is that the prime minister’s term only began on July 16th 2019 when General Prayut and his new cabinet was sworn in by His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn at the Ambara Villa within the Dusit Palace in Bangkok under the terms of the new constitution and following the March 2019 General Election.
PM’s spokesman repeatedly rejects claims that a dissolution of the House of Representatives is planned
On Wednesday, the outgoing spokesman for the Prime Minister, Mr Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana who announced his resignation on Thursday, denied reports swirling in Bangkok that the prime minister intended to dissolve the House of Representatives following the publication in the Royal Gazette of an announcement by the country’s Election Commission outlining 7 restrictions on any caretaker government that may preside over the country’s administration until a General Election is held and a new cabinet appointed.
In an extended exchange with the press, Mr Thanakhorn repeatedly ruled out any parliament dissolution until the present government’s term is due to expire naturally.
He said current rumours were nothing but ‘fake news’ and could be damaging to the economy.
He referred reporters to the Election Commission as to why the notice regarding a caretaker government had appeared in the Royal Gazette.
Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam explains background to the Election Commission’s legal notice
At the same time, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam explained to the press that the regulations published in the official government gazette dated back to February 2021 when he had asked the commission to rework the details that the body had formulated in October 2020.
The government’s legal expert told the media that he had asked that the notice not be published at that time for fear of giving rise to just the sort of speculation that has been seen over the last 24 hours.
The notice from the Election Commission was dated the 15th of August 2022 and came into effect legally on the 16th of August 2022.
The provision cited 7 different limitations on the caretaker government including any acts or use of government resources which may give an unfair advantage to one party over another in a forthcoming election.
Nevertheless, fears are growing in political circles in Bangkok that the Prime Minister may act to dissolve the House of Representatives before the Constitutional Court takes up the case of his tenure.
Opposition leader urges Prime Minister not to dissolve the House of Representatives, no reason for it
On Wednesday, the leader of the opposition Dr Cholnan said that the reason for asking the court to review the tenure of the Prime Minister was because there was a clear intention in the constitution which sought to limit any one person’s power.
He said he hoped that General Prayut does not move to dissolve the house before August 22nd which is the date being speculated upon as there is no conflict between parliament and the executive.
Election law is finalised in parliament but the basis for the next General Election is still uncertain
On the other hand, such a move would place the future of the new electoral law which is in the process of being finalised for signature by the King, in doubt and could lead to a political vacuum with no legal basis that would be certain for holding the next General Election.
He said that if the Constitutional Court took up the case related to the prime minister’s term, then it could optionally extend the tenure of the cabinet and prime minister in a caretaker role or if the court decided to suspend the Prime Minister from his duties from the 23rd August, then Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan could take up the role until matters were resolved.
Anutin says house is winding down anyhow and it is just as well to be prepared for political accidents
Speaking on Wednesday about the rumours and uncertainty, Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, the leader of the Bhumjaithai Party, said that the prime minister had not signalled any intention to dissolve the House of Representatives.
He emphasised this power was for the government leader to exercise alone.
In any event, the house was approaching its final six months and it was only prudent, said Mr Anutin, to prepare for any political accidents that may occur at this time.
Speaking on the Clubhouse app, former Premier Thaksin Shinawatra denied persistent rumours in the last week that there is some sort of understanding between Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan and the Palang Pracharat Party and the Pheu Thai Party brokered with himself to form a government after the next election.
The former premier dismissed the suggestion saying he had not spoken to General Prawit in a long time and speculated that the position of the Palang Pracharat Party will be a very weak one after the next election.
Mr Thaksin welcomed the new electoral law on party list seats with a divisor of 100 and suggested that, ultimately, the public in Thailand would be the judge of the matter saying he expected the Pheu Thai Party to exceed 250 seats in the next house and to work in a group of up to 300 pro democracy MPs returned to form a government.
Visibly emotional Prime Minister addresses a supportive audience at a song contest in Bangkok
Late on Wednesday afternoon, a visibly emotional prime minister attended the final of a national song contest themed ‘Song contest for the Nation and the Throne’ organised by the Royal Thai Army at the Siam Paragon Shopping Centre in central Bangkok.
He told his audience that music united hearts and was a universal language without speech that fostered harmony and love.
‘The world is in conflict, we have to love each other as much as possible,’ Prime Minister Prayut told the receptive audience which he noted donated many young people as well as older Thais.
‘We have to love each other As long as we love Thailand for sure. Let’s hear the applause. Will you cooperate?’
At the conclusion of his speech, the under-pressure government leader bowed his head and said: ‘Seeing me as the Prime Minister and the director of the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) seems very big. The more positions, the greater the responsibility. We must take care of people. Some need more, some need less. Because we have enough people. There are many differences. I try to do my best with mutual understanding. How can we overcome these obstacles? We have many opportunities. If you stand up straight I know we have a lot of opportunities. We must not destroy our chances, this is all I can leave you with.’
The government and key ministers have over previous months suggested that an election may be called towards the end of the year or after the high-profile Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit which is due to be held in Bangkok in November.