An attempt by Pheu Thai to elbow Move Forward out of the coalition may prove more difficult politically than thought but it must be done in the coming days or an alternative strategy devised where the eight-party coalition holds tight. That then leaves the decision of the Constitutional Court on the future of the Move Forward Party when it decides on the complaint filed against the party under Section 49 of the 2017 Constitution by lawyer Theerayut Suwankesorn. The next deadline is Thursday, July 27th in parliament when Mr Srettha Thavisin of the Pheu Thai Party is expected to be nominated for Prime Minister.
As the Pheu Thai Party held a short exploratory meeting with the Bhumjaithai Party and Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul in Bangkok on Saturday and prepares to meet the Palang Pracharat Party on Sunday led by Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, it is still facing a nightmarish political dilemma. On Saturday, Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat, speaking to enthusiastic supporters in Chonburi called on the eight-party coalition to stick together and hold out for a ‘people’s government’ by counting down the clock until May 2024 as sources indicate that Pheu Thai may be poised to jettison its more radical partner to elect former property tycoon Srettha Thavisin as Prime Minister on July 27th, a move which will also see the closely aligned Thai Sang Thai Party of Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan resign from the original pact.
The political dance between the parties in the aftermath of the May 14th General Election continued on Saturday when Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul together with Minister of Transport Saksayam Chidchob and Minister of Tourism and Sports Phiphat Ratchakitprakarn, key leaders of the Bhumjaithai Party, arrived at the Pheu Thai Party headquarters in Bangkok at 2 pm.
After a meeting that went on for about 30 minutes, there was what could be seen as a tense press conference at which Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul and Dr Cholnan Srikaew answered reporters’ questions before later heading for a coffee shop within the building where the key party figures appear to be in a more relaxed mood joking about the delights of mint chocolate coffee.
Anutin made it explicitly clear to the Pheu Thai Party and Dr Cholnan that his party would not enter a coalition if the Move Forward Party was involved
It appeared that Mr Anutin made it clear to the Pheu Thai Party, as he has said explicitly all week, that Bhumjaithai will not participate in a government involving the Move Forward Party, quite apart from its position on Article 112 of the Criminal Code relating to lèse-majesté.
It is understood that Saturday’s meeting came about at an invitation to the deputy prime minister from Pheu Thai which was open-ended and without conditions to explore each other’s position.
The second-placed party in the May 14th General Election which was formally tasked with forming a government after Friday’s meeting of the eight-party coalition, requested the Bhumjaithai Party leadership to come and have discussions to see if a breakthrough through the political impasse could be found.
It has been widely reported, since Tuesday last, even before the decision by the Constitutional Court to suspend Mr Pita Limjaroenrat and the consequent and somewhat controversial vote in Parliament that torpedoed his nomination for a second time, on Wednesday last, that Pheu Thai wishes to see Move Forward exit the bloc to allow it treat with pro-government parties who can also sway the Senate to support its nominee for PM.
Move Forward should report Thursday’s vote to the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) and file an Ombudman’s complaint under Section 234
The briefings from sources within Pheu Thai at the highest level suggest that, ultimately, the Move Forward Party must be axed from the coalition.
Pheu Thai on Saturday, despite anonymous briefings to the contrary, insisted that the eight-party coalition pact created after the election was preserved intact
However, on Saturday, Dr Cholnan was insisting that the eight-party coalition remained intact, saying that the meeting on Friday had authorised him and his party to look for additional votes in Parliament.
This was the basis, he said, for his discussions with Mr Anutin and senior Bhumjaithai Party leaders.
When arriving at the Pheu Thai Party headquarters where there was a huge press contingent, Mr Anutin recalled his days as a senior member of the Pheu Thai Party when he walked up the building’s steps and said that the atmosphere there reminded him of his political past.
At the press conference, however, Deputy Prime Minister Anutin warned that there should be no further steps to do with Bhumjaithai’s potential involvement with any proposed coalition.
Dr Cholnan countered that after the discussions on Saturday, he could see no point in ending the dialogue between the parties at this stage.
He would have discussions with all parties concerned before reaching any conclusions.
Pheu Thai to meet Palang Pracharat on Sunday which has also made it clear it will not be associated with the Move Forward Party as part of a government
It is understood that, on Sunday, the Pheu Thai leadership will meet with the Palang Pracharat Party led by Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan.
Interestingly, at the meeting, reporters put it to both Dr Cholnan and Deputy Prime Minister Anutin that there could be an option to let the incumbent government in place for the next 10 months until the voting power of the Senate in the election of a prime minister under Section 272 of the Constitution expires in May 2024.
This is five years after the first parliament under the constitution met in May 2019 which is the condition imposed by Section 272 for an exceptional joint session of parliament in electing the government leader whereas, under the normal terms of the constitution, this is the sole prerogative of the House of Representatives and its elected MPs.
Mr Anutin told reporters that the pursuit of such an option would not be good for the country since the powers of a caretaker government were limited.
Pita turns up the heat on Pheu Thai, tells enthusiastic supporters in Chonburi that his party was not giving up and urged the coalition to band together
Meanwhile, the Move Forward Party leader, Mr Pita Limjaroenrat, having returned to politics on Saturday after taking a break at home with his daughter Pipim, was in Chonburi province where he was greeted by a large and enthusiastic crowd wearing orange to thank them for their support in the May 14th General Election.
The weather was inclement with rain but Mr Pita was enthusiastic.
He told the crowd that the Move Forward Party was not giving up on its mission and duty to try to form a government.
Sources have indicated that the second-placed party Pheu Thai will not ultimately force Move Forward out of the coalition to form a new government but would prefer to let it come to that conclusion for itself.
Coalition partner tells Move Forward to sacrifice its political ambitions for the good of the country
On Friday, General Sereepisuth Temeeyaves, the leader of the Seri Ruam Thai Party, one of the parties in the coalition, suggested that the Move Forward Party must sacrifice its ambitions for the good of the country.
It is clear that this perhaps unavoidable tussle between the two leading parties in the coalition is several days off as the deadline for the Pheu Thai Party to elect a Pheu Thai prime ministerial nominee thought to be businessman turned politician, Srettha Thavisin on Thursday the 27th of July is fast approaching.
Thai politics in flux, matters are extremely unpredictable with the Move Forward Party, rejected by parliament, turning to the public for support
However, like everything in Thai politics, nothing is predictable at this point.
Mr Pita told the crowd that his party would not desert the Thai people no matter what happened.
It comes after the Move Forward leader and list MP was suspended from his parliamentary duties by the Constitutional Court last Wednesday, July 19th, as parliament met to consider his nomination for prime minister for a second time.
On July 12th last, 24 hours before the first vote on Mr Pita’s nomination for Prime Minister, the Election Commission forwarded a petition to the Constitutional Court which was taken up a week later and led to Mr Pita being suspended by judges in a 7 to 2 vote.
In the July 13th parliamentary vote, Pita failed to meet the threshold by 51 votes, when 311 MPs and 13 Senators voted for his nomination giving him 324 votes whereas 375 were required. 188 voted against him.
Constitutional Court has the power and final card to play to decide the outcome of this power struggle between democratic and conservative forces
The major concern for those on the democratic side of the political divide now is that the Constitutional Court may, at some point, render a judgement on the complaint made by a lawyer Theerayut Suwankesorn, under Section 49 of the constitution.
Mr Theerayut argues that the Move Forward Party’s policy of amending Article 112 of the Criminal Code constitutes an attempt to undermine the state defined as the ‘Democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State’ under Section 49 of the 2017 Constitution charter.
This provision reads: ‘No person shall exercise their rights or liberties to overthrow the Democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State. Any person who has knowledge of such an act under Paragraph 1 shall have the right to petition the Attorney General to request the Constitutional Court to order the cessation of such an act.
In the case where the Attorney General orders a refusal to proceed as petitioned or fails to proceed within 15 days from the date of receiving the petition, the person making the petition may submit the petition directly to the Constitutional Court.
The action under this section shall not prejudice the criminal prosecution against the person committing an act under paragraph one.’
Option of counting down the clock until May 2024 will be resisted said Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam in May this year after the election
The potential ruling of the court on this complaint which was submitted by Mr Theerayut to judges after the Attorney General did not take up his complaint is now a critical factor in how matters may proceed from this point since May 2024 will see a completely altered political landscape before Parliament in the election of a Prime Minister.
The Senate will no longer be empowered to vote.
Speaking to this recently, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, the government’s legal expert, warned that it was sure to be challenged legally in court.
Pheu Thai may face a terrible dilemma as outgoing government parties still aim for power in the PM vote
It is also quite clear that the Pheu Thai Party, by proceeding with the formation of a government which to succeed must exclude the Move Forward Party, is running the risk of undermining its core support as the sundering of its pact with the more radical party would see it renege key promises made before the May 14th General Election.
Mr Pita in his remarks in Chonburi on Saturday may have hinted at this when he called for the eight-party coalition to hang tight and hold out for a ‘people’s government’ in the midst of this political crisis.
Pita, on Saturday, spoke of a struggle to form a ‘Government of the People’ to break with the ‘succession of dictatorship’ being forced on the public
He said: ‘I confirm that I won’t leave you guys however, why would we want to make an election when the chosen prime minister is replaced by another for the ceremony, right.’
‘But we still can’t give up hope. We still can’t give up. Since we are in the same boat. All eight parties must form a people’s government. The people’s government proposes the truth that was once given to the people,’ said Pita.
He suggested that his party would be urging the Pheu Thai Party not to break with the pact that was created by it in the Memorandum of Understanding signed on the 22nd of May 2023 on the 9th anniversary of the 2014 coup to form a ‘government of hope’.
‘Therefore we will never give up. We must put an end to the succession of the dictatorship. When they block us like this, we have to continue to work, perhaps not in the Parliament, but I will be with the people, I will continue to work for the people.’
Thai Sang Thai Party is out if Move Forward is pushed
The potential political minefield for the Pheu Thai Party can be seen from the stance taken this week by Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan who up until recently was a key leader of the Pheu Thai Party and who later founded the Thai Sang Thai Party.
Thai Sang Thai indicated during the week that if the Move Forward Party is pushed out of the eight-party alliance it will go too.
The Thai Sang Thai Party has six MPs in parliament in addition to 151 for the Move Forward Party.
In the aftermath of Saturday’s meeting, sources linked with the conservative side of politics indicated that the Democrat Party is likely to go into opposition.
It had in recent days suggested that it was willing to discuss matters with Pheu Thai but something appears to have changed.
Indeed on Saturday, the state of Thai politics was still very much in flux and turmoil with no one knowing which way the ball was going to hop.
Ironically, the potential Constitutional Court decision could be more decisive than any decision made by the political leaders in the current negotiations.
Nightmare dilemma feared by Pheu Thai is upon it
The nightmare dilemma that was predicted for the Pheu Thai Party has now come into focus with the party left facing a very difficult decision in the coming days and even then, if it breaks with the Move Forward Party and the eight-party alliance, there is still no guarantee that on Thursday, July 27th, Mr Srettha Thavisin will be elected prime minister due to unknown forces who are directing the current political situation and the Thai Senate.
Another key development on Saturday was a statement from Mor Mai Thon (Doctors Won’t Tolerate This), a group representing doctors that sprung up recently within the overworked Thai health service, saying that doctors would not accept the Bhumjaithai Party leader, Mr Anutin, again for another four-year term as Public Health Minister.
In a social media outburst, the doctors spoke of Mr Anutin’s lack of understanding of the public health system and pointed to a deterioration nationwide in services being provided to the public under his watch.
Doctors say they cannot tolerate another four years of Anutin Charnvirakul as Public Health Minister in a blistering attack on the Deputy Prime Minister
They also bitterly criticised the record of the Minister for Public Health in the outgoing government, particularly drawing attention to his rushed and expedited campaign to legalise medical marijuana which has led to an increased number of emergency service incidents and rising concern among theThai medical establishment about the dangers of what was up to June 2022 a proscribed and listed illegal narcotic.
The doctors’ group also took issue with a lack of management of budgetary resources at the Ministry of Public Health while Mr Anutin has been in charge and highlighted the lack of vaccines at the height of the Covid-19 crisis in 2021, a black period for the outgoing government which many among the Thai public hold Minister Anutin responsible for.
The doctors’ group noted that the health service in Thailand in recent months has seen mass resignations and said that this campaign would surge if Minister Anutin was confirmed for another four years.
They highlighted Mr Anutin’s recent controversial response to a threat by doctors to resign due to budgetary constraints when the senior minister said: ‘Nothing can be done at this time, they can only pack up and leave.’
Bhumjaithai Party is pushing for the retention of the Public Health Ministry portfolio while Palang Pracharat wants the Ministry of the Interior
It is known that the Bhumjaithai Party and the Palang Pracharat Party are closely aligned in current political manoeuvres despite avowals by key leaders of both parties that they are not in contact.
Their response to the political situation is almost identical in that both parties insist that they will not support a minority government while also insisting that they will not become involved in a coalition that involves the Move Forward Party.
Sources have also suggested that the Bhumjaithai Party is insisting that it be granted the Public Health portfolio again if it enters any government while the outgoing ruling party, Palang Pracharat Party, led by General Prawit Wongsuwan, is demanding the Interior portfolio.
That ministry is currently held by General Anupong Paochinda who plans to finish his career when this government’s period in office expires.
The Ministry of the Interior is a powerful political fiefdom in Thailand as it gives the minister particular control over local authorities which includes preparations for and the conduct of elections throughout the country.