All sides will lose if chaos of post-Songkran scenarios breaks out

opinion April 24, 2014 00:00

By Suthichai Yoon
The Nation

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Is the much-predicted "political apocalypse" inevitable?

The popular scenario being bandied about goes something along these lines: The National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) and Constitutional Court (CC) will hand down verdicts soon and, one way or the other, Premier Yingluck Shinawatra runs the risk of losing her seat. The government won’t accept the verdict. Red shirts will launch a large-scale protest. The anti-government protesters will confront them. Clashes will ensue. Civil war will break out.

The NACC has been investigating corruption charges related to the highly controversial rice-pledging scheme, which somehow have implicated the premier. She hasn’t denied that there might have been something fishy in the process but she argues that, as head of government, she was only responsible for policy-level decisions. The blame for any corrupt practice should be pinned on the operational level.

The graft-busters don’t seem to buy that argument. The government and even Yingluck herself have come out publicly to suggest that the anti-corruption agency might be using “double standards” in judging her.

If the NACC decides to indict her in the next few weeks, Yingluck would have to be suspended from her post. The anti-government protesters say that would result in a political vacuum and that a non-partisan premier would have to be installed under Article 7 of the charter. Yingluck has countered that even if she is forced to step down, the caretaker government could name a deputy premier to take her place. There is, she insists, no room for an “outsider” to step in, as has been claimed all along by Suthep Thaugsuban, leader of the People’s Democratic Reform Council (PDRC).

The Constitutional Court is also due to hand down a verdict on the premier’s decision to transfer Thawil Pliensri from his post as secretary-general of the National Security Council (NSC). If the CC rules that she did in fact abuse her power in this case – as has been previously ruled by the Administration Court – Yingluck, in accordance with one of the charter clauses, may have to stand down. A similar face-off over whether a political vacuum will ensue has also been raised.

The doomsayers say one of these two cases will result in the caretaker government being thrown into a shaky position. The government, the ruling Pheu Thai Party, some of the red-shirt leaders and, in the latest development, the Centre for the Administration of Peace and Order (CAPO), have taken the unusual step of issuing “warnings” to the NACC and CC, telling them in no uncertain terms “not to exceed authority” in their deliberations.

The thinly-veiled threat from Yingluck and her aides is clear: If  either of the rulings goes against Yingluck, trouble will break out. In other words, they will accept the verdicts only if they favour the caretaker government.

That, of course, is unprecedented and would set a dangerous trend. The Constitution clearly guarantees freedom and independence to the judicial bodies and independent agencies, and their rulings are supposed to be free of political influence. Both the NACC and the CC have responded with stern statements, promising counter-actions if the caretaker government does not refrain from employing such threats to achieve its political goals.

The worst-case scenario dominating the political scene right now is that Yingluck refuses to accept a negative ruling, the PRDC confronts the red shirts, violence breaks out and chaos reigns.

Does that have to happen? Not really. Former premier Thaksin Shinawatra has been trying to squeeze a “deal” from various parties. He knows that should chaos ensue, he might even lose, as it might force the military to intervene.

A “compromise” solution he has put forward in behind-the-scenes exchanges inevitably involves clearing him of all legal convictions and charges as well as returning his seized assets. That isn’t acceptable to the PDRC, whose leader Suthep has insisted that a non-partisan interim government should run the country ahead of fresh elections.

Thaksin’s insistence on a solution “within the democratic framework” can mean only one thing: He wants the new election to be held as soon as possible.

The anti-Thaksin groups’ declared condition that everything must follow the “rule of law” means that Thaksin can’t get an all-embracing amnesty.

If, despite all the threats of a massive red-shirt rally, a negative verdict is handed down against Yingluck, Thaksin is likely to negotiate for an interim premier of his choice. That, too, is a non-starter.

But both Thaksin and Suthep realise that resorting to a violent confrontation won’t achieve the victory each seeks. Instead, together with the Democrats and the other pressure groups in Thai society, they will have to iron out a compromise solution, no matter how difficult that might prove to be.