Police in central Bangkok are already preparing water cannon trucks as protest movements take up their position in the centre of the city with key roads to Government House being blocked. Pheu Thai Party MP for Ubon Ratchathani Somkid Chuekon has warned that any attempt by Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha to extend his term from Tuesday night will result in ‘disunity’.
Thailand has found itself on the cusp of yet another political crisis with the Constitutional Court now petitioned by parliament to urgently rule on the status of Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha whose term, the opposition says, expires on Tuesday, the 23rd of August 2022 at midnight. The situation comes with a massive online and digital media opinion poll showing that over 93% of the public want the PM to go while protest groups have begun moving into place in central Bangkok in the last 24 hours with veteran activist and Red shirt leader Jatuporn Prompan, on Sunday evening, telling followers that this would be a turning point and promising a ‘countdown’ to General Prayut’s exit from power.
With pressure mounting by the hour on Thailand’s embattled Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha to step down and bow to a constitutional provision limiting his term in office, a large and comprehensive opinion poll carried out by Thai online media and digital TV channels with over 374,000 votes, does not spell good news for the PM.
The poll shows that 93.17% of respondents want General Prayut to resign from office within the next 24 to 48 hours to comply with Section 158 of the Thai Constitution.
Over 374,000 people polled by online and digital TV media, 93.17% want the Prime Minister to resign
The poll, so far, has 369,284 respondents in Thailand with 4,579 in foreign countries while 1,438 votes were spoiled or incomplete.
It comes as it looks increasingly likely that the Constitutional Court will issue some sort of ruling on the matter shortly with Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam even suggesting, on Monday, that if General Prayut is forced out as Prime Minister, he could still attend cabinet meetings in his role as Defence Minister.
Earlier, Mr Wissanu, the government and Prayut’s top legal adviser suggested that if the Constitutional Court ruled that General Prayut must cease performing duties as Prime Minister, he can still carry out the role in an acting capacity.
This has been rejected by scholars and opposition politicians on the basis that in 2014 then Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra had to vacate the office after being ordered to do so by the Constitutional Court.
Legal adviser and Deputy Prime Minister insists the Prime Minister may be allowed stay on even if the Constitutional Court rules against him on the issue
However, Dr Wissanu has differentiated between the two situations by saying that, in this case, the government leader has not transgressed any law as was the case with Ms Shinawatra in 2014 who was removed for illegally having a key official transferred from his position.
Before this, Mr Somchai Srisutthiyakorn, the former election commissioner who has played a leading role in framing Thailand’s new election laws which are now caught up in the maelstrom of the crisis, ruled out the prospect of the prime minister remaining in a caretaker role citing the precedent of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in 2014.
However, Deputy PM Wissanu said he saw no reason why this could not be a way forward except if the court specifically ordered to the contrary.
Mr Somchai has said that the appropriate step would be to appoint one of the current deputy prime ministers to the role under Section 41 of the State Administration Act 1991.
Petition submitted to the Constitutional Court by parliament after being perfected by Speaker’s office
The Thai parliament has submitted the opposition’s petition to the Constitutional Court seeking a ruling on the status of Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha whose term, according to most legal experts, is due to expire on Wednesday at midnight.
The submission was perfected by the Speakers Office in parliament after being presented to Mr Chuan Leekpai last week by opposition party leaders.
The current elevated level of uncertainty and political tension has seen the return of street protest groups who are determined to see the government leader who assumed office on the 24th of August 2014, some three months after a coup d’état which he led, step down.
Prime Minister’s Office and allies urge caution as General Prayut remains tight-lipped about his future
General Prayut has never commented publicly on the issue except to state that it was a matter in which the court may ultimately decide.
He has remained tight-lipped about this in recent weeks as tension has mounted while calling for unity and promising not to dissolve the House of Representatives which is solely within his prerogative.
PM’s Office is adamant there will be no dissolution as the opposition petitions the Constitutional Court to clarify
In the last week, his former spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana as well as key allies of the PM urged the public and political commentators to desist from interpreting the law and to let the court decide the matter in due course.
Protesters descend on central Bangkok for a ‘countdown’ led by veteran Redshirt leader Jatuporn Prompan who sees a turning point in politics
On Sunday, a protest group took up a position in Bangkok ahead of what is now expected to be a critical week in Thailand’s politics.
The group called ‘People’s Unity Council’ set up a stage outside Bangkok City Hall in a space reserved in recent weeks for peaceful protests by the newly elected Governor of Bangkok Chadchart Sittipunt, a former Minister of Transport who was arrested by security forces in the May 2022 coup led by then army chief and now Prime Minister General Prayut Chan ocha.
The group is fronted by 56-year-old United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) Chairman Jatuporn Prompan, a veteran political activist and former Pheu Thai Party MP.
The United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) is seen as a key vehicle for what has been named as the Red Shirt movement in Thailand which has been associated with violent street protests in the capital since the ousting of former Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra in a 2006 army coup.
If Prayut stays beyond August 23rd, he will be a ‘bootleg’ prime minister warned Jatuporn on Sunday
The protest launched on Sunday evening has been themed as a ‘countdown’ to the removal of General Prayut from power.
Mr Jatuporn told his audience that the current political moment represented a ‘turning point’ for Thailand and a door leading to change.
‘On August 23rd, the countdown will be held at midnight. After midnight, if Prayut stays, he will be a bootleg prime minister. He will have no right to enter Government House. I believe that this is the countdown for General Prayut for sure.’
It is understood that at least two other protest groups will be active between now and Wednesday night in Bangkok with at least one confirming that they intend to push their way through to Government House to encourage Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha to leave office.
Police close off four roads leading to Government House in Bangkok expecting a large crowd to turn up
The heightening of tensions has seen all roads near Government House in Bangkok closed by authorities as some of the protest groups planning to demonstrate over the next few days have promised to march on the seat of government.
The current crisis relates to Article 158 of Thailand’s 2017 constitution, together with Section 170, which limits the cumulative term of any eligible person in Thailand to be prime minister to eight years.
Despite a flux of opinion in recent years as to what date the current prime minister’s term took effect with three different strands of opinion and thinking, there has been a change over the last week as the date approached with a growing belief that the PM must resign.
Three different strands of thought as to when the PM’s term in office began under the 2017 Constitution
The more popular opinion is that PM’s term began on the date of his appointment or the 24th of August 2019, the other is the 6th of April 2017 when the constitution came into effect with the third being the 9th of June 2019 when General Prayut was appointed by the King after the General Election in March 2019, the first under the new charter.
There has been, however, a gathering consensus that the first interpretation is the correct one.
This is based on other provisions of the 2017 Constitution such as Section 264, stating the cabinet and ministers in place were assumed to be governed by the charter when it took effect on the 6th of April 2017.
In addition, the constitutional drafting committee, in 2018, at meetings to define the intent of the charter for its future interpretation, supports the view that General Prayut assumed office on the 24th of August 2014.
Only filed his statements of assets and liabilities once and that was in 2014 when taking up the role
Other arguments cited in support of this are that the government leader only filed a statement of assets and liabilities as requested for officer holders under the law after his appointment in 2014 while various politicians and legal experts have also distilled the argument down to common sense, namely that the prime minister has been in office for eight years.
This is the view taken by Pheu Thai Party MP for Ubon Ratchathani Somkid Chuekong who this week came out to oppose any extended tenure of Prime Minister in his role beyond the Tuesday 23rd August 2022 even in a caretaker capacity.
‘Taking the role of caretaker will only lead to disunity. Everyone knows that General Prayut has exceeded eight years,’ Mr Somkid declared. ‘I suggest Gen Prayut take this chance to leave his post with dignity.’
Pheu Thai Party MP warns that it is obvious that the Prime Minister must resign to preserve ‘unity’
Mr Somkid suggested that there should be no need for the prime minister to refer the matter to the legal sphere at all.
The MP warned that his failure to resign risked plunging the country into political chaos.
As to the prime minister holding onto power until after the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in November, he said this was unheard of and that the country cannot be held up by the wishes of just one person.
Police in Bangkok prepare to confront protesters
Police at Nang Loeng Police Station in central Bangkok are reported to be expecting a large number of people to attend the network of protests that have been scheduled.
In addition to Mr Jatuporn’s countdown, there are also protests planned on Tuesday at Democracy Monument and on Wednesday at Ratchaprasong Avenue.
On Sunday evening, protesters took note as crowd control police appeared before the Ministry of Transport and a blue vehicle fitted with water cannon was seen being prepared.