Political instability looms in Thailand. Senate elections face turmoil, PM’s future in jeopardy, top party dissolution imminent, and Thaksin’s potential re-jailing. June could plunge the nation into a crisis.

The danger of a political ‘accident’ in Thailand is rising rapidly in June. At length, the potential removal of Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin could see the country plunged into a political maelstrom. This is occurring against the backdrop of a fraught Senate election which is experiencing difficulties, the almost certain dissolution of the country’s most popular political party, and the potential re-jailing of former premier Thaksin Shinawatra if he is refused bail when indicted on June 18th next.

The political boat in Thailand faces stormy waters in the coming weeks with a Constitutional Court threat to the tenure of Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, the liberty of ex-Premier Thaksin Shinawatra and the political future of Pita Limjaroenrat and the Move Forward Party which looks like it will be dissolved. (Sources: Government House, Move Forward Party).

Political instability in Thailand has risen sharply in recent weeks. Indeed, June is threatening a raft of different crises which may throw the country into chaos.

In the last 24 hours, the Election Commission has been scrambling to clarify its regulations regarding Senate elections with polling due on Sunday. 

It follows a decision by the Constitutional Court to take up a case challenging the body’s strict requirements for potential candidates to communicate with potential voters.

Reports that 149 senators already assured of a place in the upper house by a cohort who have cornered the market in the closed system election to the body

In summary, the Senate elections process is a complicated closed system election across a range of panels.

However, in the last week, confidence in the process has been rocked with reports that 149 senators have already been chosen by a cohort of people in control of the process.

On Thursday, the Constitutional Court declined to give an injunction or interfere with the running of the election.

In particular, at the same time, the court agreed to review Sections 36, 40(3), 41(3), and 42(3) of the 2018 Senate election law. The plaintiffs who brought the case claim that these infringe their rights under the 2017 Constitution.

Election Commission secretary-general Sawang Boonmee moved quickly to suggest that Election Commission officials were working to find a solution.

On Thursday, he indicated that the seven commissioners would make a decision to avoid disruption to Sunday’s district-level voting.

Critics suggest that the election may have to be postponed and warn that the results may well be subject to court challenges. Postponing the poll would be a disaster

Nonetheless, experts including some vocal outgoing senate members suggest that the election itself may be compromised.

They suggest that the Election Commission may have to postpone the June 9th district-level poll. The alternative may be that afterwards there will be a legal challenge to the election’s results.

Poll postponement would be a disaster for confidence in the country’s electoral process. In short, a black eye for Thailand. However, damage is already done

At the same time, while this is happening, over at Government House, the Prime Minister and his legal team including old hand and former deputy prime minister Wissanu Krea-ngam are preparing the PM’s defence in a Constitutional Court review of his position.

In short, it stems from the controversial appointment of Mr Phichit Chuenban in the April 2024 cabinet reshuffle. The case follows a petition by outgoing senators. They suggested that under Sections 160 (4) and (5) of the Constitution, the appointment should not have been made. 

PM survives Constitutional Court’s call in a close run thing raising real questions over his future
Wissanu is back in government service as the aura of political instability returned to Thailand this week

The appointment was as Prime Minister’s Office minister.

Mr Phichit was jailed in 2008 after being found trying to bribe officials in a Supreme Court case. He consequently was jailed by the court for six months. In addition, he was disbarred as a lawyer.

That case involved former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Indeed Mr Phichit was his lawyer in the case.

Afterwards, Mr Phichit was appointed an advisor by Mr Srettha when the new government was formed in September last year.

Prime Minister Srettha is in real legal jeopardy over his appointment of Mr Thaksin’s former lawyer as a junior minister last April in the cabinet reshuffle

Under Constitutional provisions, it clearly states that a minister must be a person of upright character and integrity.

The 6-3 vote by the Constitutional Court to take up the case on Thursday, May 23rd, was seen as a blow to Mr Srettha.

In particular, after the Prime Minister’s Office minister himself resigned days before. Furthermore, the court dropped the case being taken against the former lawyer.

It comes as the Prime Minister’s popularity has also declined.

A credible King Prajadhipok’s Institute opinion poll was released four days later on May 27th.

It showed Mr Srettha as only the country’s fourth choice for Prime Minister. With 8.7% support, he had less than half the following of former prime minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha.

Significantly, the leader of that poll was former Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat at 46.9%. This young politician was the winner of the May 2023 General Election and has consistently been a public favourite.

Move Forward Party set to hold a press conference on June 12th in defiance of a Constitutional Court order not to comment publicly on the case before it

However, this is where another potential crisis presents itself.

Most political pundits believe that the Move Forward Party will be dissolved in June by the Constitutional Court. After three extensions, the Constitutional Court received the Move Forward Party’s written defence last Tuesday in a case being pursued against it under Section 92 of the 2017 Political Parties Act.

A key Constitutional Court hearing to respond to the submission is scheduled for June 12th. This appears ominous as the party had proposed witness testimony. However, the court may not rule on the matter next Wednesday despite expectations.

Meanwhile, despite being warned not to comment publicly, the party insists it will go ahead with a press conference next Sunday. In short, it will outline its defence.

At length, this follows a January 31st unanimous ruling by the court that the Move Forward Party attempted to overthrow the constitution in the last election.

This decision was based on the Move Forward Party’s election manifesto and pledges to seek reform of the country’s Article 112 provision on lèse-majesté. In addition, Move Forward proposed to clarify the government’s relationship with the monarchy and the armed forces.

Party  has been a ‘dead man walking’ since January 31st

Indeed since that ruling, the party has been described as a ‘dead man walking’ by political analysts.

At the same time, the point is that if the Election Commission were to fail to act against it, it would have been a dereliction of duty under the current legal framework.

In the meantime, the Move Forward Party continues to be popular. In the same King Prajadhipok poll, it maintained twice the support of the ruling Pheu Thai Party.

Move Forward polled 35.7% in comparison to Pheu Thai’s 18.7%.

Pundits are divided as to what its dissolution will mean. 

Undoubtedly it will lead to another wave of street protests or similar activity.

This is what happened after its predecessor, the Future Forward Party, was dissolved in 2020.

Afterwards, the Move Forward Party came back to become an even bigger force, winning the 2023 election with 37.99% of the vote and 151 seats.

Pita Limjaroenrat, the most popular man in Thai politics and the perceived winner of the May 2023 General Election may face a ban for 10 years or even worse

However, other analysts suggest that the success of Move Forward is linked to Mr Pita Limjaroenrat.

At this time, it looks like Mr Pita Limjaroenrat along with 43 other leading lights in the party, is facing a 10-year ban from politics. 

At length, they may face other consequences in due course given the nature of the case being pursued against the party.

Finally, on June 18th, the de facto leader of the ruling Pheu Thai Party, Thaksin Shinawatra, is due to be indicted by the Office of the Attorney-General (OAG).

The former premier faces a criminal lèse-majesté charge and a charge under the 2007 Computer Crime Act.

This relates to an interview given to South Korean media in 2015.

In brief, Mr Thaksin is alleged to have accused the privy council of supporting the 2014 coup d’état which removed the elected Pheu Thai government. That government came to power in 2011 led by his younger sister Yingluck Shinawatra.

Thaksin faces the real possibility of jail again when he applies for bail on the lèse-majesté charge he faces after breaching his bail conditions in 2008

There is some nervousness about this case and the June 18th indictment.

This week, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin came forward to express a view that Mr Thaksin is unlikely to flee the country again.

Of course, this is what happened in 2008 when he was released on bail to attend the Beijing Olympics.

At the same time, the convicted former prime minister is on parole.

In addition, his treatment by authorities will be compared with the treatment of young students accused of the same crime. Of late, such accused people have been granted bail.

However, not in relation to repeat offenders or those who originally breached their bail conditions as Mr Thaksin did.

All this is coming amid an underlying deterioration in Thailand’s economic fundamentals. In turn, this is coming despite short-term growth driven by foreign tourism.

However, the Thai stock market up to the end of May is down by 7% for 2024. It comes as the outlook for the formal economy grows dimmer.

Catalyst for a political storm would be Mr Srettha’s removal by the Constitutional Court. In turn, the collapse of the unlikely government formed last year

Meanwhile, within the government, there are signs of tension. 

For instance, a strain between Pheu Thai and the Bhumjaithai Party on cannabis. Minister of Public Health Somsak Thepsutin is progressing smartly with re-criminalising the use of the drug.

However, in recent comments, Deputy Minister Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, appears unhappy. The man who led the cannabis resolution warned of the losses faced by weed entrepreneurs.

In short, this is already quite an unlikely government which emerged as part of a ‘backroom’ deal negotiated last year.

That was coincidental with Mr Thaksin’s return from exile in August 2023. The danger of that deal unravelling and unleashing damaging political forces is rising.

In addition, within Pheu Thai itself, there are rumours of divisions. Firstly, over the call back of former deputy prime minister Mr Wissanu. Additionally, over the influence being wielded by Mr Thaksin.

The potential catalyst for a political storm could be the removal of Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin from office by the Constitutional Court.

In effect, that would be the end of the coalition government.

Afterwards, the next Prime Minister would be chosen solely by the House of Representatives. However, one must consider the potential backdrop such a political exercise may be taking place against. Thailand’s political world, like its economy, is currently at sea.

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Further reading:

Wissanu is back in government service as the aura of political instability returned to Thailand this week

PM survives Constitutional Court’s call in a close run thing raising real questions over his future

PM Srettha Thavisin could be temporarily toppled from power on Thursday by the Constitutional Court

Cabinet reshuffle sees Pheu Thai tighten ship as it readies to drive the economy and digital wallet at full steam

Thaksin’s real influence hinted at with a lunchtime meeting at his daughter’s central Bangkok hotel in Ploenchit

Big cabinet reshuffle talks confirmed by the PM after Songkran visit to Thonburi to meet Thaksin at home

Jail time to return for Cannabis players as Srettha describes the trade as a threat to the country and economic negative

Bank of Thailand holding strong against a strident push by the PM for more populist economics as debt levels rise

Property market glut sees minister’s call for supports in the face of the central bank’s ongoing credit crunch

Prime Minister Srettha still doggedly pushing his less than popular and legally perilous Digital Wallet plan

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Srettha outlines Digital Wallet as his government begins to flounder with a faltering economy and confusion

Economy is in troubled waters with fears for both exports and foreign tourism as 2023 winds down

Thailand faces an economic future of low growth despite Srettha’s plans because of a darker world

Another dip for the baht or are economic danger signals flashing for both Thailand and the world?

Bank of Thailand boss appears critical of the new government’s policy initiatives on the economy

Economy tanks as demand for loans surges with an acute credit crisis and falling export output reducing growth