Hiatus may allow Pheu Thai to regroup amid strong signals that the party may be about to commit political suicide with the electorate by abandoning the democratic principle in the face of a growing clamour in establishment circles for a more urgent approach to forming a new government while key leaders in its alliance are calling for the eight party coalition to stand together and count down the clock until May 2024 when the Thai Senate’s power to vote on electing a prime minister expires under the controversial Section 272 clause of the Constitution.
Thailand’s parliamentary process to elect its 30th Prime Minister was suspended indefinitely by Parliament President Wan Muhamad Noor Matha on Tuesday after a case was forwarded to the Constitutional Court the day before challenging last Wednesday’s vote in a joint session which blocked the nomination for a second time of Move Forward Party leader Mr Pita Limjaroenrat as Prime Minister. It comes amid increasing acrimony over the process and growing calls from among democratic activists and parties to the eight-party post-election alliance representing 62% of MPs and up to 75% of voters to hold fast and disengage from the process altogether until May 2024 as the Pheu Thai Party appeared over the weekend poised to cut the Move Forward Party adrift to form a government with parties associated with the outgoing government in order to win over enough votes from the Senate, a move which many political analysts consider a potential death knell for the party as a popular force in Thai politics.
On Tuesday, after discussions with his advisors and the whips of the parties, the President of the Parliament, Mr Wan Muhamad Noor Matha, announced the suspension of any planned vote linked with a nomination for Prime Minister until the Constitutional Court has ruled on a petition forwarded to it by the Office of the Ombudsman on Monday questioning the legality of last Wednesday’s procedural vote in parliament under the body’s regulation 41.
A meeting of parliament had been scheduled for Thursday, July 27th at which it was expected that the Pheu Thai Party would propose its nominee, Mr Srettha Thavisin, for the role.
Vote on Thursday would have added to the uncertainty and already complex predicament with directly conflicting legal opinions from experts on both sides
Mr Wan Muhamad, on Tuesday, explained that in the absence of a ruling from the Constitutional Court, another vote on the matter would create further difficulty and conflict.
Mr Thanakorn Wangboonkongchan, the Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office and Deputy Leader of the United Thai Nation (Ruam Thai Sang Chart) Party, earlier in the day, spoke to the media about Monday’s decision by the Ombudsman to refer last Wednesday’s controversial vote in Parliament to the Constitutional Court for a ruling under Section 213 of the Constitution.
This was the parliamentary joint session which blocked the second nomination of Mr Pita Limjaroenrat of the Move Forward Party as Thai Prime Minister and had threatened to put a cap on the number of nominations in any one session of parliament that any candidate can expect to receive, a factor which could further complicate an already fraught and difficult process.
Mr Thanakorn told the media that it must be seen whether the court would take up the case.
Constitutional Court sources indicate no quick decision this week as it is unlikely to decide on taking up or rejecting the case until at least next week
It is understood from sources at the Constitutional Court that this Wednesday when the body has its weekly meeting, it will not make a decision on whether to accept the case before or not, given its significance and the number of different petitions before it, many from legal experts.
The key aide to Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha, on Tuesday, pointed out that if the court fails to take up the petition then the matter can be considered to have been dispensed with.
The minister acknowledged that many independent legal scholars had questioned the parliamentary vote on Wednesday 19th July last but also pointed to the opinion ventured yesterday by Mr Charan Pakdeethanakul, a former highly regarded Constitutional Court judge, who argued that the court had no right to question the regulations that apply to the parliamentary process as it would constitute a breach of the country’s separation of powers.
Mr Charan said he understood why the Ombudsman had to refer the request but said he was very sceptical that the matter would succeed before the court if indeed it was taken up at all.
Minister at the Prime Minister’s Office strongly opposes proposed 10-month delay strategy being advocated by key players in the democratic coalition
Mr Thanakorn was asked about the situation that exists between the Move Forward Party, the Palang Pracharat Party and his own United Thai Nation (Ruam Thai Sang Chart) Party.
He reiterated what all outgoing government-aligned parties said over the weekend about an inability to work with the Move Forward Party which won this May’s General Election because of its policy to amend Article 112 of the Criminal Code on lèse-majesté.
Mr Thanakorn was also asked, as was outgoing Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha earlier about a proposed strategy to defer the election of a Prime Minister until May 2024 being mooted among members of the eight-party democratic coalition.
He said he was concerned at the potential for political conflict if this approach was taken, suggesting that it could lead to problems among the people.
Government ministers say a 10-month delay suggested until 2024 when the Senate has no say would harm the economy, raise political instability
Like other political figures on the more conservative side of politics including both General Prayut and Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, he told reporters he wanted to see a government as soon as possible so that the country can move forward and build on the foundation of the current ministry.
He said it was his personal opinion that a speedy resolution to the matter of forming a government was in the interest of the kingdom.
He pointed to statements made by the business community which is waiting anxiously so that a government can be put in place despite the inability of both the Move Forward Party and now the Pheu Thai Party to form a government by achieving a majority in parliament, including the Senate.
Mr Thanakorn pointed out that the normal procedure was for the first party to give way to the second party and then if need be, the third party to take up the challenge of forming a government.
He said this was normal procedure in a democracy.
The minister, a close aide to the outgoing PM, said that with tourism and the economy overall improving, it would be a mistake not to elect a new government in a timely manner.
Waiting for ten months until May 2024 would not be in the best interests of the people.
Pheu Thai Party poised to break with Move Forward
Monday’s move from the Office of the Ombudsman followed a weekend of consultations between the Pheu Thai Party and parties aligned with the outgoing government in which it appeared that the party that came second in the May 14th General Election was contemplating sundering its alliance with the Move Forward Party.
This is according to informed sources and anonymous press briefings linked to the party since early last week.
Then came news on Monday that the office of the Ombudsman, after petitions from the public were put before it, including one from the Move Forward Party, as a matter of urgency, handed them over to the Constitutional Court.
The petitions relate to last Wednesday’s controversial vote in Parliament where senators and MPs were allowed by Parliament President, Mr Wan Muhamad Noor Matha, to vote on whether a second nomination of Mr Pita Limjaroenrat should proceed before it in the matter of electing a new Prime Minister.
Wan Muhamad, Parliament Speaker, treated the nomination of Mr Pita for a second time as a parliamentary motion and not as a constitutional vote
Under the interpretation that seemed to be followed by the Speaker, the re-nomination of Mr Pita was treated as a parliamentary motion and therefore, even while explaining himself over the weekend, Mr Wan Muhamad suggested that the key consideration for him as Parliament Speaker last Wednesday was whether there was something new being put before the joint assembly.
However, on Thursday and Friday, leading academics and legal scholars came out in force to suggest that Mr Wan Muhamad may have been treating the process wrongly as a parliamentary motion but instead insisted it was a process or activity governed directly by the 2017 Constitution.
Therefore, on this basis, repeated nominations could be allowed, as they are in other countries.
On Monday, Police Lieutenant Colonel Kirop Kritthiranon, the Secretary General of the Office of the Ombudsman, said that his office had received no less than 16 different complaints over last Wednesday’s proceedings in Parliament.
Therefore, he explained, he was petitioning the Constitutional Court as a failure to do so would be an infringement on the constitutional rights of Mr Pita as the Move Forward Party leader and nominee of the eight-party coalition.
Top legal scholars and Move Forward Party MPs behind complaints sent to the Ombudsman’s Office
The petitions are reported to have come from legal scholars, members of the public and members of the Parliament from the Move Forward Party.
The question now is whether the Constitutional Court will rule swiftly on the matter and what its implications may be for ongoing efforts to form the next government and elect Thailand’s 30th Prime Minister which has led to an increasingly complex legal and political situation caused by the country’s constitution and strict regulatory oversight of day to day politics compared to other countries.
After this weekend’s discussions, where parties aligned with the outgoing government told the Pheu Thai Party that they will not support its nominee or its efforts to form a new government if it contains the Move Forward Party, there were already calls from members of the Senate and other political leaders for the vote on Thursday to be postponed.
Ombudsman’s Office asked for vote suspension as experts claimed the vote last Wednesday was a critical legal error with possible compound damage
On Monday, the Ombudsman also requested that Thursday’s joint session of parliament, comprising the House of Representatives and the Senate, be delayed. It suggested that if the vote proceeded amid the current doubts it may lead to further complications, and compound difficulties and damage to the political process.
It has emerged that one of the complaints filed with the Office of the Ombudsman came from Move Forward MP Paniyarat Pusatantam from Nonthaburi, along with 16 other MPs from the Progressive Party.
The basis for last Wednesday’s vote was Parliamentary Regulation 41 which applies to motions put forward in Parliament related to legislative deliberations and specifies that any motion that has been rejected by either house may not be laid before it again in a single session of Parliament.
Those who have criticised the vote and the decision by the Parliament Speaker, last week, to allow it, claim it was a significant error on his part while on Monday, Senator Praphan Koonmee and former Constitutional Court Judge Charan Pakdeethanakul staunchly defended Mr Wan Muhamad Noor Matha’s approach and the resolution reached.
Legal experts and democratic activists argue that the nomination of a prime minister is solely governed by Sections 159 and 272 of the 2017 Constitution.
Decision came after Monday’s meeting of the Ombudsman to consider the complaints filed before it
As criticism of the decision by the Parliament Speaker grew over the weekend, on Monday, it was reported law lecturers from 19 different academic institutions came out to express their dissatisfaction with the parliamentary vote on July 19th.
The decision of the Ombudsman came in the afternoon on Monday after a meeting, convened in the morning, considered the petitions submitted to it, many of them coming from academics and lawyers who confirmed that a nomination for the position of prime minister can be repeated over and over again once the individuals were properly nominated in line with the two sections of the charter.
One of the academics involved, Mr Boonsong Chalatern, a lecturer at the Faculty of Social Innovation at Rangsit University, sought the ruling from the Constitutional Court through the Office of the Ombudsman under Section 213 of the Constitution which allows for an application to the Constitutional Court to rule on such an issue which concerns a possible breach of legal rights under the supreme law.