Thai PM has one clear choice: step down

By Asia News Network | Source: The Nation
The Constitutional Court’s Wednesday verdict shooting down the charter amendment related to senators’ selection and qualifications may not have caused any major changes within the Pheu Thai-led government, but it has created a political deadlock.

Amid the headaches caused by the verdict, at least one thing is clear: The processes by which the bill was passed, and its content, are unconstitutional. Though the court did not prescribe any penalty for those who committed the wrongdoing, Article 216 states that the decision of the court shall be deemed final and binding on all organisations.

In this case, those who seem certain to face consequences are Parliament President Somsak Kiatsuranont, Parliament Vice President Nikom Wairatpanij, House secretary-general Suwichag Nakwatcharachai, all 312 MPs and senators who proposed the amendment bill, and Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who submitted it to His Majesty for endorsement.

If the people involved are penalised, a political vacuum could result. Complaints and impeachment petitions against Somsak, Nikom, the 312 lawmakers and the PM have already been lodged with the National Anti-Corruption Commission.

The anti-graft panel yesterday resolved to set up a panel to investigate the case. If the NACC finds grounds to suspect wrongdoing by the accused, they shall not perform their duties until the Senate votes on whether to impeach them.

If Somsak and Nikom cannot perform their duties, then Parliament cannot be convened. The Pheu Thai Party’s plan to push forward to vote for a third reading to amend Article 291 of the Constitution will not succeed.

Attempts to amend that article was meant to pave the way for the entire charter to be rewritten. But the charter court last year ruled that a wholesale rewrite of the Constitution would require that a referendum be held.

The fates of the 312 lawmakers – consisting of 262 MPs and 50 senators – and Yingluck would be determined in the same way as Somsak and Nikom’s. If the NACC finds grounds to suspect wrongdoing by the PM and the lawmakers, then only Democrat MPs and those from other small parties will be left in the House. How will the House function if more than half of its members are suspended?

Yingluck could also face impeachment over an allegation related to the rice-pledging scheme. The case is being investigated by the NACC and should conclude soon. If the panel finds grounds to suspect wrongdoing by the PM, she will not be able to perform her duty.

Amid such political chaos and deadlock, Yingluck has only two cards to play: to resign or dissolve the House.

Even if she wants to stay, her government will be in a lame-duck situation. Plus, many landmines will lie ahead for her.

The government may also face legal headaches on the amendment of Article 190, which will allow the government to sign international deals without seeking legislative approval, and on the 2-trillion-baht (US$62.80) loan bill. The two bills are pending court consideration of their constitutionality.

Another impeachment motion will be lodged against the 310 MPs who voted for the blanket amnesty bill.

The decision on whether to quit may be taken out of Yingluck’s hands, because “something else” could interfere in the situation.

Furthermore, if the 312 lawmakers are suspended, the Pheu Thai Party may not be in a position to select her replacement anyway.

So a House dissolution appears to be a better choice, but when? Yingluck will have to wait until the censure debate finishes. The House session will end on November 28.

Early next month, 109 politicians of the now-defunct People Power, Chart Thai and Matchima Thipataya parties will end their five-year bans and return to the field of politics.

Perhaps that could be the right timing for a House dissolution.