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Questions arise as dissolutions put electoral system in a vacuum


Thanks to the dissolution of the three coalition parties, Somchai Wongsawat effectively lost his seat as prime minister along with other party executives in his Cabinet.

Altogether, 13 Cabinet members - all executives of People Power, Chart Thai and Matchima Thipataya parties - have lost their seats. The remaining 22 Cabinet members will take on the role of caretakers.

Somchai was serving as caretaker leader of the PPP before it was dissolved. Under the court order, he as well as other executives from the disbanded parties will be banned from politics for five years.

Deputy Prime Minister Chaovarat Chanweerakul, who survived because he did not hold an executive post in the PPP, will serve as caretaker prime minister. He is expected to call a meeting of the caretaking Cabinet today to select an official caretaker prime minister, though former members of the PPP are expected to nominate yet another proxy for ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

However, there are some legal questions facing the process and there is concern of possible intervention by "non-parliamentary power" during the period of political vacuum.

Do MPs from the now-defunct PPP have the power to vote to select a PM when they have not moved to other parties?

The PPP's legal expert Sukhumpong Ngonkham, who lost his seat as PM's Office minister, said yesterday that according to the Constitution, MPs from dissolved parties had 60 days to find a new banner. He said in the interim, the MPs retained their status and authority. However, some observers say MPs only have full authority, including the right to vote for a new PM, when they are affiliated to a political party.

Can MPs elected on the proportional representation system move to a political party other than the one they ran under?

Some legal experts say they can do so because the Constitution does not prevent party-list MPs from moving to another political party. However, Chirmsak Pinthong, one of the drafters of the 2007 Constitution, said only constituency MPs could move to other parties. He argued that party-list MPs were elected under a system in which their parties, not the candidates, were contestants. He said it would be against the Constitution for party-list MPs to move to another party, particularly one that did not exist when the elections took place.

Election Commission member Sodsri Satayathum said the Constitution did not clearly address the matter of changing affiliations for party-list MPs from dissolved parties, adding that the EC debate upon this matter when MPs announce their new affiliations.

How can a national unity government be formed?

Many people are calling for a national unity government to be set up as a way out of the prolonged conflict. However, the Constitution needs to be amended to allow a non-MP to become head of such a government.

In order to amend the charter, at least half of the remaining parliamentarians need to support it.

After the removal of executives from the three coalition parties, there is a total of 597 MPs and senators remaining. Therefore, at least 299 members of the two Houses need to support the amendment. Since the number of opposition MPs and senators, who would definitely favour this option, is not enough, it would be difficult to achieve without the intervention of a non-parliamentary power.

Does the caretaker prime minister have the power to dissolve the House of Representatives?

Dissolving the House could emerge as an option for the current caretaker PM, ahead of the selection of new premier. The Council of State - the government's legal advisory agency - once ruled that a caretaker PM could dissolve the House because there were no laws preventing him from doing so. The agency made this ruling when Somchai was serving as caretaker prime minister after his predecessor, Samak Sundaravej, was disqualified. However, opposition could arise against such a move and a ruling by the Constitution Court may be sought on the matter.

 


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