23 May 2024

Over the past few days, calls for a “national government” have grown, but so are a group of constitutional interpreters who believe that writers of Thailand’s new charter had anticipated problems of a “minority” administration and thus sneaked in ways to tackle them.

The constitutional interpreters are pointing at Article 270 of the charter which states that laws associated with “national reform” have to be provisionally passed by a joint House-Senate deliberation.

It’s the same provisional authority as the Senate’s power to vote alongside the House of Representatives on the selection of the first post-election prime minister. The powers were given to the first Senate virtually installed by the military.

The Senate’s provisional powers were criticised as a means to prolong the military’s stay in politics, but criticism has focused on the prime ministerial election rather than anything else. Now, if men like Paiboon Nititawan are right, Article 270 of the Constitution will gain more recognition as a crucial support for a prime minister who does not have a House of Representatives majority on his side.

“Any law can be described as being conjured up to help national reform,” said the leader of the People Reform Party. What he meant to say is that if incumbent Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha becomes the post-election prime minister, support by the Palang Pracharat Party, a few other MPs and the Senate will be enough to help his government pass crucial laws.

Tight results of the March 24 general election mean that the two rival camps fighting to form a coalition government will not be able to gather a solid House of Representatives majority. This gives Prayut a clear advantage because he will have the Senate on his side.

Yet many rivals of Prayut and several analysts have warned that the Senate will not always be there to help Prayut on parliamentary affairs. This is a big reason why calls for a national government are getting louder over the past few days. The idea is to put Palang Pracharat and Pheu Thai together in the same government, so the marriage, no matter how reluctant, can facilitate legislative work and give a semblance of national reconciliation.

Pheu Thai’s apparent condition is that it will never accept a national government with Prayut as prime minister. This has led to a suggestion that a non-divisive outsider be brought to the helm.

Palang Pracharat naturally does not like the idea. Sudden mentioning of Article 270 can galvanise its pro-Prayut stand and apparent readiness to push forward even though it does not have a House of Representatives majority to fall back on.

One big problem for the national government idea is that the search for a truly “neutral” figure acceptable to both sides will be extremely difficult. One name that always comes up is Privy Councilor Palakorn Suwannarat, but even he will spark serious debate within the Pheu Thai camp. Other outsiders mentioned include another privy councilor, Chalermchai Sitthisart, who, again, as a former army chief, can trigger strong opposition in the Pheu Thai alliance.

In a scenario, Bhumjaithai leader Anutin Charnvirakul will emerge as an “accidental prime minister” whose government will comprise both Palang Pracharat and Pheu Thai. Pheu Thai may be more comfortable with this, but will Palang Pracharat embrace him, having a prime ministerial nominee of its own and winning a far bigger number of electoral seats?

Developments on the surface seem to rule out the national government idea, as the two main parties appear irreconcilable. However, Thailand’s political conflict has produced one deadlock after another, blocking national progress in the process. Opinion polls conducted in the aftermath of the March 24 election are immensely in favor of political peace, with surveyed Thais unequivocally saying divide caused by the poll results is their biggest source of unhappiness.

All this, in addition to the on-going coronation of Thailand’s new King, calls for divisive politics to end. Which is why the national government proposal keeps coming back although both sides of the political conflict, publicly at least, continue to balk at it.