A decisive 48 hours in Thai politics in which anything may happen with fears of a Constitutional Court intervention removing the Move Forward Party and the candidacy of Pita Limjaroenrat for Prime Minister or the nomination of Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan for the job in parliament attracting more support than anticipated while on Thursday Pheu Thai, if there is not a decisive outcome on Wednesday, will probably nominate property tycoon turned businessman Srettha Thavisin.
As Thailand faces the second round of decisive votes to elect the kingdom’s next Prime Minister, there is growing concern about a Constitutional Court petition which could see the Move Forward Party dissolved. This was referenced on Monday night by the US State Department in Washington DC where a spokesman said the United States was concerned about the situation in the kingdom and respect for the democratic will of the people.
The US State Department in Washington has gone on record expressing concern at the situation in the aftermath of the May 14th General Election in Thailand.
A top spokesman for the State Department, Mr Matthew Miller referred to the pending legal cases being reviewed since last Wednesday by the Constitutional Court.
Complaint filed by lawyer Theerayut Suwankesorn taken up directly by the Constitutional Court after Attorney-General failed to act under Section 49
One of these is a complaint against the Move Forward Party prime ministerial nominee Pita Limjaroenrat and the other, perhaps more serious, is a petition that has been accepted by the court filed by well-known lawyer Theerayut Suwankesorn.
Mr Theerayut’s complaint alleges that the Move Forward Party’s policy related to Article 112 of the Criminal Code dealing with lèse-majesté, in itself, represents a significant breach of Section 49 of the Constitution.
Section 49 of the 2017 Constitution deals specifically with attempts to undermine the state and in particular, the monarchy stating: ‘No person shall exercise the rights or liberties to overthrow the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State.’
The constitutional provision also provides for a citizen to report such a matter to the Office of the Attorney-General (OAG) and thereafter, approach the court directly if the Attorney-General fails to act on a report of such activity within 15 days.
It is understood that this is how Mr Theerayut’s was taken up by the Constitutional Court last Wednesday.
Simplistic petition may lead to a quick decision which may see the Move Forward Party dissolved by the court with precedent in Thailand for such a move
The court has already taken up this case and observers fear that it may, on a simplistic basis and interpretation of Section 49 which is wide-ranging, hand down a judgement which could have significant ramifications for the political process.
On Monday, speaking to reporters in Washington, Mr Miller of the US State Department stressed that the United States does not have any particular preference as to the outcome of the political process in Thailand provided that the will of the people is respected in line with accepted democratic principles.
‘We are very closely watching the post-election developments. That includes the recent developments in the legal system which are of concern for us,’ he stated.
There is a very real concern with precedents going back to 2008 and 2020 when significant Thai political parties were dissolved by the court in sudden decisions.
2008 court order collapsed the government
In the case of the 2008 decision, the People’s Power Party was the main party of government at the time and the court’s decision to dissolve it over election fraud claims saw the appointment of a new government made up from the rump of the parliament in its aftermath.
That new government led by the Democrat Party under Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva found itself quickly at the centre of protests and disturbances which ultimately culminated in the 2010 protests in Bangkok which saw scores of lives lost and which brought the Thai state into uncharted waters while testing its limits when it comes to dealing with political unrest.
People’s Power Party was dissolved in 2008 after winning the election decisively a year earlier in 2007 leaving power to the rump of that parliament
The comments by the State Department official come the week after Mr Pita Limjaroenrat’s attempt to become prime minister was defeated by the Thai upper house or Senate which saw 159 of the senators abstain in the vote which effectively was a vote against Mr Pita’s nomination as the Section 272 constitutional provision stipulates a requirement of half the combined session of parliament or 375 votes, to be carried.
39 senators voted against his nomination with 13 in favour while 43 of those senators eligible to vote did not attend the meeting last Wednesday.
Mr Pita secured 324 votes including 311 MPs from his coalition voting in favour within the House of Representatives against 188 MPs and senators who opposed his nomination from both houses.
Senate appears to grow more active and partisan as the process draws out and the Move Forward Party digs in with determination to reform Article 112
This has raised eyebrows, suggesting that there may be some coordination over how the Senate is voting.
Following the vote last Wednesday, the Move Forward party has doubled down on its radical legislative programme for any proposed new government, including an attempt to switch off the power of the Senate in voting for a prime minister under Section 272 of the constitution, even though that power expires naturally in May 2024.
Move forward MPs in the House of Representatives have already tabled a range of bills aimed at liberalising the Thai economy and reducing monopolies which have been seen to benefit the elite in the country, which controls a significant proportion of its wealth.
On Tuesday, the Move Forward Party leader, Mr Pita, despite calls from those within his coalition and supporters to withdraw the party’s policy on amending Article 112 on lèse-majesté, doubled down on the proposal and suggested that the Move Forward Party was committed to keeping faith with its public policy platform, put to the people in advance of the May 14th General Election.
Mr Pita was speaking to the international news agency Reuters in Bangkok.
Move Forward Party says it is aware of the campaign against it from conservative forces and is ready to fight but will not lay down its key principles
He warned that the party was determined to defeat efforts to block its progress and that those conservative elements who appear to be engineering its exclusion from power were now facing a more engaged electorate as the country had moved into a different era with the people determined to bring about change.
The 43-year-old politician is understood to be still the nominee of the eight-party Coalition again on Wednesday 19th July although there are now voices within that pact expressing unease at the more radical party’s staunch position on lèse-majesté.
Analysts are suggesting that the Palang Pracharat Party is ready to nominate its leader General Prawit Wongsuwan, currently Deputy Prime Minister and a key member of the coterie of army generals who engineered the 2014 coup.
He is expected to be brought forward as a nominee either on Wednesday or Thursday.
Pheu Thai to nominate Srettha Thavisin on Thursday if a second vote goes ahead but there are no guarantees in what may be a decisive 48 hours ahead
On Tuesday, it also became clear that the Pheu Thai Party will nominate businessman turned-politician Mr Srettha Thavisin, who was endorsed by fellow party nominee Ms Paetongtarn Shinawatra to take on the role.
A National Institute of Development Administration (NIDA) Poll, on Sunday, showed that Ms Paetongtarn enjoyed more public support than Mr Srettha with 38.55% behind her against 35.04% for him.
Mr Srettha, however, is thought to be the candidate who may prove more acceptable to the Thai Senate, which is understood to be looking for a more senior and experienced leader while sceptics suggest that the Senate will vote for neither Mr Pita nor Mr Strettha unless a government is formed with MPs and parties from the establishment bloc or the outgoing government.
Current deadlock expected by Move Forward Party
On Tuesday, Mr Pita said the people in Thailand were well used to conservative opposition to change by now. The current deadlock was absolutely expected.
‘The same thing, same venue, broken record. But the sentiment of the era has changed,’ he told reporters for Reuters. ‘Despite what happens tomorrow, there has been progress in society. They demand something new, something fresh.’
The debate in Parliament last Thursday during the period immediately after Mr Pita’s name was put forward and his oration outlining his vision for the country as Thailand’s next Prime Minister produced a changed parliamentary atmosphere.
When Move Forward MPs debated with senators and MPs from the benches of the outgoing government parties over the controversial Article 112 criminal code provision which can see people jailed for up to 15 years with courts often handing down multiple sentences for repeated acts of lèse-majesté or offences under Article 112, Move Forward MPs including its Secretary General Mr Chaitawat Tulathon resolutely argued that the time has come for no person in Thailand to be jailed for their opinions.
Open and robust debate on Article 112 on lèse-majesté in parliament showed that there is already change in Thai politics but will it now be cut short?
This proposition was, in turn, vehemently denied by members on the other side of Parliament many of whom afterwards expressed surprise that the matter had been allowed to be debated so openly and robustly.
On Tuesday, Mr Pita emphasised that any changes to the law on defamation or Article 112 would be a matter for the House of Representatives where, at present, a majority are opposed to changing it.
He suggested that the Move Forward Party’s plan for reform of the defamation laws and Article 112 was not a threat to the revered Thai monarchy but, in fact, a route by which it could remain above politics and not become endlessly embroiled in ongoing political disputes.
He noted that currently, more than 250 people are before Thai courts charged with the offence.
‘I am still sticking to what I promised the voters. The institution is above politics. That is the only option for governance in this country,’ Mr Pita declared. ‘I cannot look them in the eye if I am walking away from this issue.’
US State Department is watching closely
Back in Washington DC, the State Department’s Mr Miller would not be drawn by reporters on what the United States might do if the Move Forward Party came to be dissolved.
He said he could not ‘speculate about how we might react to events that have not yet occurred.’
But he did again repeat the US government’s concern about ongoing political developments in Thailand and the legal petitions taken up by the country’s Constitutional Court.