The strategy was first mooted publicly by former United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) leader Jatuporn Prompan as the best course of action as opinion polls strongly suggest that the public is behind the original eight party coalition of democratic parties which will be broken up if Pheu Thai proceeds to opt for forming a government while jettisoning its initial commitments to democratic principles and ideals under the Memorandum of Understanding towards a ‘Government of Hope’ which it signed up for with the Move Forward Party and others on the 22nd May 2023. It will be seen by the electorate as a betrayal.
Thai Prime Minister, Prayut Chan Ocha, on Tuesday, said the strategy of counting down the clock to May 2024 being proposed by elements of the democratic eight-party coalition was an ‘inappropriate’ one for the kingdom currently facing political deadlock. On Saturday last, Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul also warned against such an approach saying that a government with limited powers for such a duration would not be beneficial for the economy, the people or investor confidence.
At Government House on Tuesday, Thai Prime Minister, General Prayut Chan Ocha was asked about speculation that has been doing the rounds and is now openly pushed by key members of the eight-party democratic coalition, that the pact should opt-out of the current political tussle between itself and the Upper House or Senate as well as outgoing government parties after the failure to elect Move Forward leader Pita Limjaroenrat in the July 13th vote of Parliament and the subsequent vote on July 19th which this week has led to a suspension of the process after the matter was referred to the Constitutional Court by the Office of the Ombudsman, by counting down the clock until May 2024.
The current source of speculation is from the Thai Sang Thai and Fair parties who have made it clear that they support the Move Forward Party’s efforts to form a government and have warned against a change of tack being contemplated by the Pheu Thai Party which is widely speculated to be ready to axe Move Forward, the party that came first in the General Election on May 14th, from the bloc.
Two parties from the original coalition with 7 MPs will withdraw if the Move Forward Party is forced out of the pact in opposition to ‘junta-related’ parties
Both parties, with just seven seats in parliament, have already announced their withdrawal from the grouping if this happens.
They are opposed to association with any party linked with a military figure who played a part in the 2014 coup d’état such as the Palang Pracharat Party led by General Prawit Wongsuwan and the United Thai Nation (Ruam Thai Sang Chart) Party which previously had General Prayut as its chief strategist.
Under Section 272 of the Constitution, the voting power of the Senate in the election of a prime minister is limited to five years from the first meeting of Parliament under the new Constitution enacted in 2017.
That meeting took place in May 2019 and therefore Section 272 concerning the voting rights of the Senate will become inactive in May 2024.
The House of Representatives, thereafter, under Section 159 of the Constitution is empowered to elect a Prime Minister in the normal course of events based on a majority within the lower chamber, where the coalition has 311 seats out of 500, a comfortable majority.
General Prayut, in his weekly audience with reporters, was opposed to any suggestion of extending the term of the caretaker government until May 2024
Speaking with reporters on Tuesday, General Prayut appeared to discourage the move.
‘I don’t think it’s appropriate,’ he answered.
Subsequently, the outgoing Prime Minister who has announced his retirement from public life, said he did not wish to remain in the job until May 2024 but in the meantime, thanked ministers for continuing to carry out their duties.
General Prayut’s response is similar to other cabinet members in recent days including Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul who was asked about the same proposition on Saturday.
Mr Anutin, the outgoing Minister for Public Health, replied that the country needed a government as soon as possible, as the powers of the caretaker cabinet were limited in respect of budgetary matters and making key decisions for the country.
He said it would be a bad outcome for the people and would negatively impact investor confidence.
Initially, Move Forward’s leadership hoped enough members conservative Senate would support Mr Pita’s bid for Prime Minister but this proved illusory
Initially, before the vote on July 13th last, Move Forward Party Secretary-general Chaitawat Tulathon had expressed confidence that his party could secure the 65 or so votes needed from the upper house but this turned out to be misplaced as only 13 members of the Senate voted in favour of Mr Pita’s nomination on July 13th, while well over half, or 155 senators abstained and 42 in total failed to turn up for the vote.
Thailand is facing a deep political crisis as Pita loses a key vote and the top court takes up complaints
A further 39 senators voted against the nomination of Mr Pita as Prime Minister.
Since then, the mood of the Senate has become notably more hostile to the prospect of a Move Forward Party government, as discussions relating to Article 112 of the Criminal Code relating to lèse-majesté have become more bitter, with the debate on July 13th following the nomination of Mr Pita centring on the issue leading to robust exchanges between Move Forward MPs, senators and MPs associated with the establishment.
Key protest leader Jatuporn’s strategy is growing in popularity among the democratic side of the political divide as Pheu Thai appears to succumb to its fate
Former Red Shirt leader and chairman of the UDD, Mr Jatuporn Prompan, who is a regular contributor to ThaiRath TV, suggested that counting down the clock to May 2024 was the best proposition for the coalition representing democratic principles while predicting that the Pheu Thai Party would be placed in an impossible dilemma and may ultimately opt to pursue four years in government despite the potential decimation of the party as a popular political force in the future because of this move.
Pheu Thai may face a terrible dilemma as outgoing government parties still aim for power in the PM vote
Mr Jatuporn’s suggestion was also countered by Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, the government’s legal advisor, who suggested that any attempt at such a strategy would lead to the Pheu Thai Party giving up its opportunity to form a government.
This would give the green light to the third-placed Bhumjaithai Party to proceed to form a government from among the 188 MPs and senators who appear to be hostile to the eight-party coalition on the other side of parliament and with perhaps wider support from the Senate.
Mr Wissanu, at an earlier point, said that he did not think that an extended period could be allowed until May 2024 without facing legal challenges from vested interests.
Minority government could be formed with Senate
This would of course be a minority government which both the Palang Patriot Party and Bhumjaithai Party have said in the last week they are committed to avoiding.
In the same week, there has been a concerted campaign among business leaders in the kingdom to warn against this possible way out of the political deadlock which may see government disbursements limited and key decisions on investments normally taken by the cabinet stalled but there is also unease at the prospect of civil unrest and severe alienation among voters with national opinion polls showing overwhelming support for the eight party coalition, involving the Move Forward Party and Pheu Thai Party, to hold tight to their pact and be allowed to form a government.
The eight-party coalition signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the 22nd May 2023, nine years to the day after the 2014 coup d’état and represents 75% of voters in the last General Election and 62% of MPs in the House of Representatives.