Already this week, the Bhumjaithai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul has a problem with a proposal from Pheu Thai and Mr Srettha Thavisin to vary ministries in any incoming government. The potential rejection of Mr Srettha Thavisin in the coming vote on his nomination in parliament will hand the initiative over to Mr Anutin and ultimately the Prime Minister’s chair to General Prawit Wongsuwan.
The Constitutional Court, on Wednesday, cleared the way for the parliamentary process to elect Thailand’s 30th Prime Minister to continue when it rejected petitions made against the blocking of Mr Pita Limjaroenrat’s renomination on July 19th last. A new vote on the nomination of Pheu Thai’s Mr Srettha Thavisin is likely within the week but there are doubts as to whether it will succeed, opening up the possibility of a Bhumjaithai Party-led effort to form a government and the eventual election of General Prawit Wongsuwan as Thailand’s next PM.
On Wednesday, the Constitutional Court in Bangkok threw out petitions submitted to it via the Office of the Ombudsman questioning the legality of the decision in Parliament on July 19th not to debate the renomination of Mr Pita Limjaroenrat for the office of Prime Minister.
Despite the depth and breadth of legal submissions to the court, the judges, in a unanimous decision, agreed that the parties before it had no standing under Section 213 of the constitution which allows citizens to seek redress with the court if their rights are infringed.
Pita Limjaroenrat should have brought the petition to the Constitutional Court as others lacked standing, the basis for Wednesday’s unanimous decision
The decision inferred that Mr Pita should have brought the proceedings himself for the matter to be adjudicated on.
It had been accepted by most legal analysts and constitutional scholars that the point of law before the court was a substantial one as it involved the separation of powers between parliament and the courts as well as the process to be followed in future prime ministerial nominations depending on whether such proceedings are subject to parliamentary regulation or are governed directly by the constitution with parliament acting in a special role required by the charter.
For now, the decision made by parliament on July 19th stands, meaning a person can only be nominated once for prime minister in any parliamentary session, treating such nominations in the same way as any parliamentary motion before the body.
No decision on a substantial legal issue
Wednesday’s decision does not make a formal pronouncement on the legal question but in its aftermath, attention now turns to when Parliament will sit to hear the nomination of the Pheu Thai Party for prime minister as negotiations continue between it and the Bhumjaithai Party as well as the Palang Pracharat Party.
In recent days, there are reports also of tentative approaches to the United Thai Nation (Ruam Thai Sang Chart) Party.
On Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Bhumjaithai Party, Mr Anutin Charnvirakul, spoke to reporters after a meeting of the Bhumjaithai parliamentary party had concluded.
He confirmed that his understanding was that his party, which controls 71 MPs in Parliament, will be offered 8 cabinet seats including 4 senior ministries and 4 junior ministries, in the next government.
Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul is a potential clash with Pheu Thai over his determination to retain the party’s old ministries
However, a key issue has arisen between Bhumjaithai and Pheu Thai over Mr Anutin’s insistence that his party be allowed to retain the ministries it controlled in the government of General Prayut Chan Ocha.
There have been credible reports of dissatisfaction within the health service at the prospect of Mr Anutin being returned as Minister for Public Health with strong opposition from doctors’ groups and representatives of the medical establishment.
They are objecting on the grounds of Mr Anutin’s style and his approach to the administration of the department, including the allocation of budgets, with many being critical of his handling of the legalisation of marijuana, which continues to be a significant controversy in the kingdom and which the Pheu Thai Party had promised to reverse in government.
At the beginning of his interaction with reporters on Tuesday, Mr Anutin suggested that the Bhumjaithai Party may assume control of the Ministry of Culture and jokingly performed a dance to reporters indicating that he was ready for such a challenge.
Anutin bridled at the latest Pheu Thai suggestion, put forward by Srettha Thavisin, that his party’s continued control of ministries lacked transparency
However, the Bhumjaithai leader also stated his opposition to suggestions from Pheu Thai that there should be a rotation of ministers from the previous government based on the need for transparency.
Mr Anutin explained: ‘It was said that it was impossible for us to hold the old ministries because it is not transparent. This is unacceptable. It’s not. We only work with transparency, straightforwardness and dedication. It must not be a question of transparency. We do not have any actions that are not transparent.’
Anutin said that the party had campaigned based on retaining the ministries it controlled including Transport, Public Health and Tourism and Sports as continuity was important to the party’s political ambitions.
When asked if he was going to take up the matter with the leadership of Pheu Thai, including the prime ministerial nominee Mr Srettha Thavisin, who has been publicly associated with the policy of rotating ministers in any proposed cabinet, Mr Anutin indicated that discussions were ongoing on both an informal and formal basis.
However, he made it clear that, at this stage, he was conscious of the need right now to gather the support needed to elect Mr Srettha as Thailand’s next prime minister.
Srettha’s election prospects undermined by claims linked to an extension tax avoidance scheme linked to the property firm he resigned from this year
This is by no means a foregone conclusion with significant opposition being mooted in the upper house or Thai Senate and continuing allegations being made by truth activist Chuwit Kamolvisit, including in recent days, revelations that Mr Srettha’s property development company from which he resigned before the election campaign, had engaged in a convoluted and complicated scheme, using nominees and various other companies, to purchase an expensive property in the Thonglor area of Bangkok from a doctor.
These allegations suggest that the scheme allowed the owner of the land in question which was reported to have had a value of ฿1.1 billion, to avoid paying up to ฿521 million in taxes.
The company associated with Mr Srettha has repeatedly issued strong statements denying any impropriety and the prime ministerial nominee has launched defamation proceedings against Mr Chuwit Kamolvisit seeking ฿500 million in damages from the former massage parlour boss turned political activist who claims he has not long to live.
Anutin dismissed protests against his party last Sunday and said the failure of the Move Forward Deputy House Speaker to resign would be dealt with
Mr Anutin also addressed questions from reporters on protests against his party and Pheu Thai last Sunday, in which demonstrators had gathered outside the headquarters of both parties in the centre of Bangkok.
He indicated that there had been no damage to the party’s headquarters except for a mousetrap left stuck to the building’s entrance, a cheeky reference by protesters to Mr Anutin himself whose nickname ‘Nu’ means mouse in Thai.
The deputy prime minister was then asked about the status of Mr Padipat Suntiphada, the Move Forward MP from Phitsanulok, who was elected first Deputy Speaker of the House on July 4th last.
Mr Padipat is now facing calls to resign from the position, as the new coalition government arrangement would see the Move Forward Party shunted into opposition.
However, Mr Padipat who is also engaged in controversy in the last week over a video clip in which he was seen promoting a local craft beer in his constituency in contravention of a law prohibiting the advertising of alcohol products, is refusing to resign from the position.
Asked about this on Tuesday, Mr Anutin told reporters that he was aware that Mr Padipat had not yet resigned and that the matter would have to be dealt with at a later stage in Parliament.
Therefore he would not comment at this time.
PM vote could be Friday or next Tuesday
Following Wednesday’s decision, there will be a parliamentary meeting on Thursday to decide on the date for the nomination of the next prime minister with the Pheu Thai Party expected to put forward Mr Srettha Thavisin.
This could take place at the earliest on Friday but it is more likely to be held next Tuesday.
It should give rise to a last-minute scramble to finalise negotiations between the various parties and efforts to drum up support from the Senate.
It is being speculated by sources that the Senate will be instrumental in rejecting the nomination of Mr Srettha for prime minister with reports that many upper house members may simply abstain denying him the 376 votes required as was the case with Move Forward’s Pita Limjaroenrat when he was nominated on Thursday, July 13th last.
It is likely that Mr Srettha will not be re-nominated if he fails to be elected prime minister after today’s Constitutional Court decision.
On Tuesday, the Move Forward Party, the spurned General Election winner, clarified that it would not support the Pheu Thai Party’s nomination removing any doubt in that regard.
A rejection by parliament of Srettha Thavisin as Prime Minister will cut the ground from under Pheu Thai giving the initiative to the Bhumjaithai Party
This will lead to a further crisis as the candidacy of Aung In or Ms Paetongtarn Shinawatra, the second and likely next nominee, is likely to face even more opposition in the Senate because of her family name while Pheu Thai’s third prime-ministerial nominee Mr Chaikasem Nitisiri who is reported to have had health problems, is being discounted as not having the support and confidence necessary within Parliament.
This could ultimately lead to The Bhumjaithai Party being handed the opportunity to form a government itself and it is then speculated that the question of the leadership of any proposed ministry which hopes to attain the confidence and support of the Senate will come into focus.
On this basis, it will then be suggested that the next Prime Minister should come from one of the more conservative parties and the obvious choice in terms of experience in government will be the current Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan.
It should be noted that General Prawit, as as well as being Deputy Prime Minister since the coup in 2014 was also a member of the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva which came to power in 2008 after the People’s Power Party was dissolved by order of the Constitutional Court.
General Prawit has had a distinguished career in both the military and government and may end up uniquely positioned to be elected as PM at this time
General Prawit was Minister of Defence from the 20th December 2008 to the 9th August 2011 as well as being a former Commander-in-chief of the Royal Thai Army and a military officer from 1969 to 2005.
He has promoted himself during the election campaign as a possible peacemaker between the factions within Thai politics including those behind the scenes.
In March, General Prawit caused quite a storm when he indicated that there were still people in the upper echelons of Thailand’s administrative apparatus who favoured army coup d’etats as an ultimate solution when political matters got out of hand and suggested it was time that a person such as himself came forward to take the reins of power and broker a compromise for the sake of the country.
Of course, this is still only speculation until the nomination of Srettha Thavisin is heard and voted upon either on Friday or Tuesday but if that nomination is defeated, this turn of events is quite likely.