11 July 2024

Is the pro-election camp barking up the wrong tree? Quite likely, according to some analysts who scrutinize the 2017 Constitution beyond the contentious “150 days” rule. The current debate focuses on whether the “150 days” covered the day the official polling results are announced, but if the military does have a constitutional agenda, it may lie somewhere else.

Here is the technicality currently in most people’s focus: If the “150-day timeframe” includes the official announcement of results, the election should be held on the originally-set date of February 24 or be delayed by just a couple of weeks to give the Election Commission a reasonably ample time to finalize results. A long delay could lead to violation of such a timeframe, which began late last year when organic laws on the election took effect, and expose the democratic exercise to possible cancellation.

Pro-election advocates and activists have been focusing their energy on making the election take place “in time” so that it will not be nullified. But such concern is really debatable. Even if the EC spends too much time finalizing results, leading to the perceived “150-day” period being breached, and somebody asks the Constitution Court to interpret the charter, it is very likely that the “will of the law” will prevail. And according to drafters of the present charter, or their head Mechai Ruchuphan to be exact, the 150-day timeframe was meant to cover the period between the day the organic laws took effect and the ballot casting date.

In other words, if the “will of the law” intends to have the 150-day period end on the voting day, it can be ruled that the election can be delayed up until May 9.

The “real game” can be played after the election, whenever it is held. Here’s the technicality not in most people’s focus: The present Constitution, unlike previous ones, provides no deadline on when the new Parliament must elect the prime minister. This means a lot of things can happen after voters cast their ballots.

Most importantly, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha can spend a lot of time lobbying for support. His 250-vote “head-start” from the Senate means he would need another 176 House of Representatives votes to cement appointment as post-election prime minister. This has led to threats from the Pheu Thai camp that a prime minister backed by 376 votes _ with 250 of them coming from the Senate — will not be leading a stable government. If he leads a government shored up by such support, the senatorial votes will not be able to help him on a few crucial matters including the opposition’s censure.

Now that there is no time limit for Parliament to elect the prime minister, Prayut can wait until he has gathered a comfortable number of MPs to consolidate his government. There can be a scenario in which he has 376 votes in his pocket but still bides his time for another, say, 40 votes, which can make his administration much more stable.

The waiting period will play into his hands. Prayut apparently won’t care how long it takes. A lengthy wait means he will continue to be interim prime minister, with powers under “Article 44” at his disposal. Chances are certain smaller parties that refuse to back him in the first place will lose their patience and decide to back him. And nobody can blame them, as joining a post-election government, even if it is led by Prayut, is undoubtedly “better” than continuing to have a government that came from a coup.

The only way for such a lack of constitutional deadline to be rendered irrelevant is for the Pheu Thai camp to score a landslide victory. If it wins more than 376 seats, it can name one of its nominees as the prime minister immediately. If it can’t pull out such a victory, the tide might slowly turn in Prayut’s favor.  — ThaiPBS World’s Political Desk