Government MPs risk inflaming the political crisis if they choose an unacceptable nominee to take over the premiership
Now that Somchai Wongsawat has stepped down, all attention is on the choice of a new prime minister. After the Constitution Court ruled to dissolve the three major parties in the coalition, it was hoped by some that the change would improve the political atmosphere. As things stand, that prospect does not look promising.
Unfortunately, the names of the potential candidates for the premiership have come from the same old group of politicians in the incumbent coalition. The court ruled to dissolve these parties to show that electoral fraud was unacceptable. The members of the coalition parties are manoeuvring to form a government that will be much the same as the one that was just disbanded.
The Somchai government was accused of being the nominee of fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, with its attempt to place high priority on constitutional change in favour of Thaksin and to give amnesties to the banned executive members of the now-defunct Thai Rak Thai Party instead of focusing on urgent issues, especially economic woes.
The public’s discontent with the last two governments has brought down Samak Sundaravej and now Somchai. The court has made it clear that it decided to punish these three parties to set a political standard. The court said if electoral fraud were allowed to continue, the vicious political cycle would never end. The current Constitution was designed to prevent this kind of unacceptable practice.
However, politicians have shown no remorse after the court’s decision. Some parties knew the fraud case was valid and had even set up new parties knowing their old ones would be dissolved. The same old cycle with the same old politicians seems to be never-ending. These parties stubbornly continue to argue that they should be entitled to form the government because they control the majority of seats in the House. If the coalition parties try to form a new government based on the incumbent coalition, the political paralysis might continue.
There are growing calls, including from the private sector, for the new prime minister to be more acceptable to the public.
But the coalition parties are talking about nominating Chalerm Yoobamrung as the new premier under the Puea Thai Party banner. If this is the case, it shows that these politicians fail to acknowledge the depth of the crisis. Politics is also about perceptions, and Chalerm is seen to be a close ally of Thaksin. Besides, his past record will convince few people that he is fit to become the head of this country’s government, especially during this crisis.
While we disagree with the People’s Alliance for Democracy’s seizure of the airports to press for their demands, Chalerm’s nomination is likely to bring protesters out onto the streets again. The paralysis will continue if no one wants to make a sacrifice.
The public feels exhausted with the current situation. Politicians must show that they place high priority on the national interest instead of pushing for the third generation of Thaksin nominees to head the government.
Thailand needs the cooperation of all sides, to mobilise the expertise and knowledge of all parties to rebuild and rehabilitate the nation. There’s an urgent need for people to bridge their differences and repair divisions. These politicians must realise what is best for the country.
Instead of rushing to convene a House meeting on Monday to select the new premier, MPs should instead clear the issues concerning the transfer of politicians from one party to another, particularly in the case of party-list politicians, whom voters chose not on an individual basis but because of the parties with which they were affiliated. For instance: can party-list politicians transfer from one party to another while maintaining their MP status?
In the meantime, all politicians need to sit down in sincerity and think about how to rebuild the public trust. They should show the public that Parliament can provide answers. Otherwise, the country will sink into anarchy again.
The Newin revolt and Thaksin rumours
Follow the race to world’s hottest political seat _ Thailand’s PM post _ as it happens.
Are you confused, or tired, or even afraid to know? Don’t worry. You are not alone. We are in this together and we’ll go through it together. And after a very sad week, the next few days may turn out to be fun for a change. Key developments will be updated and analysed as soon as they occur, so please check this space regularly.
Dec 3, 9 pm: The ruling politicians who survived the Constitution Court’s axe are still pondering simple options: Take advantage of the Suvarnabhumi infamy that put their enemies in bad lights, or go down a catastrophic path of their own by naming Chalerm Yoobamrung as new prime minister.
At this hour, they remain undecided. Some have suggested that maybe the House dissolution is the best solution after all. Chalerm’s possible nomination has struck fears into both allies and opponents alike, with the influential Newin Chidchob faction reportedly balking at it like a kid in front of a dentist chair. Moreover, the People’s Alliance for Democracy members may miss Government House already.
The next candidate, Mingkwan Sangsuwan, is a far less controversial figure. Better still, he is backed by another influential man close to Thaksin Shinawatra, Yongyuth Tiyapairat. But since Mingkwan doesn’t possess enough clout among ruling politicians, it may need to take something as commanding as a message from overseas to get him nominated.
Can House Speaker Chai Chidchob be in contention? Well, his sweet, endearing character cannot hide the glaring fact that he is Newin’s father. Again, Chai’s nomination can get the PAD’s marching song blaring at all city corners.
What about Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva? You just can’t stop dreaming, can you? Wishful thinkers envision all coalition partners defecting from the dissolved People Power Party to his side, but did you see Banharn Silapa-archa’s tearful, contorted face on Tuesday? If Banharn agreed to back Abhisit after that demonstration of unbearable pain, grief and anger in the wake of his party’s dissolution, why doesn’t he go for a better option of entering monkhood and take a shot at nirvana?
Yet there are people who insisted that the Chat Thai Party did not earn the nickname “Eel” for nothing. They believe the enigmatic Culture Club song, Karma Chameleon, was written specifically for this Thai political party. These Chat Thai-can-do-anything faithfuls have pointed at a tantalizing statement by the party’s only surviving senior member, Sanan Kachornprasart, who said The Eel was still keeping its options open. “We will listen to what the people want,” Sanan said, ominiously invoking the doomed party’s much-invoked motto.
There have also been talks of Newin leading a defection (again) to back Abhisit. Too far-fetched, of course. But again, that a Newin-backed Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is an outrageous political scenario doesn’t mean politicians on both sides haven’t seriously discussed the possibility.
All in all, if Chalerm rising to the premiership will be considered a travesty, Prime Minister Abhisit backed by remnants of Chat Thai and/or the Newin faction will be a black comedy.
One crucial development to watch is who will be the leader of the recently-registered Puea Thai Party, which has become the new home for many PPP MPs. The party is scheduled to elect its leader and 29-member executive board on Sunday, which could give us strong hints as to who will be nominated the next prime minister when Parliament convenes an urgent session next Monday.
About 80 of 218 MPs from the disbanded ruling party have already completed the process to switch to thebanner. Deputy House Speaker Apiwan Wiriyachai, seen as a contender for premiership, is now officially amember. He remained humble on Wednesday, saying Industry Minister Mingkwan was a more suitable candidate for the position of prime minister.
Well, this should be it for Wednesday. Am I missing anyone? Oh yes, political speculation cannot complete without a “dark horse”. In this case, it’s Transport Minister Santi Prompat. I know, to many of you it’s like “Santi who?” Don’t be too hard on yourself; it’s the third or fourth generation of “nominees” we are talking about here.
Dec 4, 11 am: The government camp still doesn’t seem to be in a hurry, with news, or rumours, of lobbying not as intense as initially expected. A key development has been a Newin faction member saying that his group will join Puea Thai. “We don’t want to be seen as a factor in the appointment of new prime minister,” said Boonjong Wongtrairat. “We just want to play an advisory role.” That can mean anything.
House Speaker Chai has warned that a rush to decision (on nominating the prime minister) could refuel political tension that had just decreased a little bit. Veera Musigapong, one of three hosts of the pro-government “Today’s Truth” TV programme, has insisted that there is no way government politicians would betray their voters by switching camp to the Democrats. Talks about Newin backing Abhisit have also died down.
Another PM candidate has emerged. It has been reported that coalition partners, the Newin group and MPs of the dissolvedare looking together at the possibility of installing Ruamjaithai Chat Pattana leader Gen Chetta Thanajaro. He is less controversial than Chalerm, seems a lot more distant fromThaksin Shinawatraand his military backgrounds give him a bigger clout than Mingkwan. His nomination won’t send thePADback to the streets.
But, and it’s a BIG BUT, what will Thaksin say?
Dec 4, 2 pm: It’s getting a bit ridiculous now but I should have seen this coming. Snoh Thienthong, yes, you heard it right, has emerged as another candidate. With most big names falling out of the picture because of party dissolutions, this is not such a big shock, though. All remotely familiar names are being explored and more fun may be in store.
Anyway, if you put a gun to my head and ask me to choose between Chalerm and Snoh, my choice is simple. Pull the damned trigger.
Dec 4, 3 pm: Is Newin dragging his feet to raise his stock prices? There have been contradicting reports on exactly how many members of his faction have joined Puea Thai. We believe that about half of the 40-strong faction have registered with the new party.
Some sources said Newin was being careful because whereas the Constitution allows MPs from dissolved parties to find a new home, it is not that clear if they are entitled to joining a brand-new party which has never contested an election and been represented in Parliament.
Meanwhile, Chuan Leekpai’s name has finally emerged, albeit just in theory. With Abhisit too controversial because of his associations with the PAD, Chuan looks a sound alternative who could lure coalition partners and some of the Newin faction to the Democrat side. To me, this theory is simply too good to be true.
Dec 4, 4 pm: The Newin faction, or about 30 members of the faction, is reportedly set to announce its decision to join the Poomjai Thai Party, set up as a spare part of the now-dissolved Matchima Thipataya Party.
Meanwhile, the expected trouble has finally materialised. A group of 40 senators has asked the Senate speaker to seek rulings from the Constitution Court on the status of party-list MPs of the People Power Party and status of the caretaker Cabinet.
Constitution writers didn’t foresee this problem, apparently. But serious questions are being asked. Can the party list MPs move to a new party, since they became MPs in the first place not on their own but through a proportional representation system? In other words, since voters voted for their dissolved parties, not for them, can they defy the voters’ will by joining another party that may not be the preferred choice of some voters? To go to the extreme, should the party list MPs disappear along with the dissolved parties?
The Senate group also wants the court to rule whether Deputy Prime Minister Chaovarat Chanweerakul could become caretaker prime minister since he is not an MP. Also, the status of the Cabinet has been brought into question, as several ministers areparty-list MPs.
At this moment, a House dissolution appears a strong possibility.
Dec 4, 5pm: HM the King was represented by the Crown Prince and HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn at the much-anticipated ceremony to thank high-level well-wishers on the eve of his birthday. The royal children told the audience, who had been apparently unaware of the changed agenda, that the king was a bit unwell with fever and sore throat. The Crown Prince and the princess conveyed his gratefulness for the well-wishers and his best wishes for all of them.
Thai people did not expect the monarch’s absence either. I can’t remember if the King had ever missed giving his birthday speech before. Even if he had, it must be really, really rare. Our newsroom fell silent after the brief statements by the Crown Prince and the princess which lasted less then 10 minutes altogether.
8.30 pm: We may have to be here for much longer than expected. A royal decree to reconvene the House on Monday has been cancelled, amid doubts about its legality since it was initiated by the Cabinet under premiership of Somchai Wongsawat. And the Cabinet has decided that when to convene the extraordinary House forum to name the new prime minister will be up to MPs themselves, not the government. In other words, the government is saying “It’s parliamentary affair now.”
So, with the King unwell the political side is unlikely to put forward another request for an extraordinary House session for him to sign in the next few days.
Sorry, but it seems the names of Chalerm, Newin, Snoh and the likes will keep haunting us for the next 10 days, at least. Think of it as a breath of fresh air after months of Sondhi Limthongkul and Chamlong Srimuang.
Dec 4, 9.30 pm: The Newin group’s newly-released press statement has confirmed its rebellious stand. Basically, the group said it wants to reserve its right not to vote for any controversial figure whose nomination could rekindle political confrontation.
Is this burning a hole in someone’s pocket? We shall see, especially if the faction ends up saying either Chalerm or Snoh can bring peace and harmony to Thailand.
By Tulsathit Taptim