April 17, 2014 00:00
By SOMROUTAI SAPSOMBOON
THE OPTIONS: COMPROMISE, FURTHER DEADLOCK OR BREAKING POINT
THE COUNTRY’S prolonged power struggle has reached a critical point, with the Constitutional Court readying to make a landmark ruling that could lead to a political vacuum amid an escalating showdown between the rival camps.
Songkran is barely over and the political mercury is soaring as the Constitutional Court takes up hearings in a key trial in which caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is accused of violating the charter in connection with the transfer of National Security Council secretary-general Thawil Pliensri.
Yingluck is required to submit her defence statement to the court by tomorrow. It is possible she may defer her testimony or the court may ask her to submit additional information.
The court, however, is expected to hand down its verdict within this month or early May, because the case has already been ruled on by the Supreme Administrative Court.
Government supporters and opponents have threatened to mobilise protesters in a show of force on the day the court hands down its verdict. But confrontations may occur after the ruling is issued, as both political camps are yet to identify their fighting strategies.
Following the verdict, there are five possible scenarios: 1. Yingluck is dismissed, with no further ruling; 2. Yingluck is dismissed and the court states that the caretaker Cabinet continues its job; 3. Yingluck is dismissed and only those Cabinet members who endorsed Thawil’s transfer are dismissed from duty; 4. Yingluck and her entire caretaker Cabinet are dismissed from duty; 5. Yingluck and her entire Cabinet are dismissed from duty, and the Senate acts on behalf of Parliament to nominate a new PM.
The caretaker government can accept the first three scenarios, and if the court rules in any of these first three ways, the prolonged political deadlock would continue. If the court rules in favour of the fourth or fifth scenarios – both of which the government has declared unacceptable – the country will enter into a political vacuum.
The government is likely to mobilise masses to oppose the ruling or reject the court ruling only on the point about the Cabinet being dismissed. The government’s next calculated move could be to resort to the proposal by caretaker Justice Minister Chaikasem Nitisiri to take recourse under Article 7 of the Constitution asking for a royal judgement as to whether the caretaker Cabinet could be dismissed.
When the Constitutional Court ruled that the late ex-premier Samak Sundaravej ceased to hold his post in 2008 after taking money for appearing on a TV cookery show, his Cabinet continued working as a caretaker.
At that time the House voted Somchai Wongsawat to replace Samak, but the Thaksin camp does not have this luxury because Yingluck has dissolved the House.
The Thaksin camp thus faces risks of being toppled from power in at least two ways – one is from the People’s Democratic Reform Committee and the other is the Senate, through the Senate speaker, who acts as Parliament president.
PDRC chief Suthep Thaugsuban has vowed to establish his “sovereign power” and appoint his own PM and cabinet before seeking royal endorsement.
The Senate has stepped up pressure on the government to issue a Royal Decree, calling for a special Senate convention so that it can consider impeaching former Senate Speaker Nikom Wairatpanij, who is accused of violating the charter for chairing the debate on amending the charter’s provisions pertaining to the composition of the Senate.
The government has tried to block the Senate from getting involved in the power struggle. This is apparently because it believes that if a meeting to discuss Nikom’s impeachment is held, the Senate might take the opportunity to vote and select a new Speaker connected with the old establishment, and to nominate a PM with its own political affiliation. If the government refuses to call a special Senate meeting, the Senate may have to seek a Constitutional Court ruling.
The two rival camps may be able to reach a compromise over the election, as both political camps have agreed to attend a meeting to discuss holding a new election on April 22. However the Election Commission has revealed that the security agencies and the military told the agency it is unlikely the election can be held within 60 days.
So the outcome remains unclear as to whether the rival camps will be able to reach a compromise or hit breaking point. Even continued political deadlock cannot be ruled out.