After six months, 24 deaths and more than 700 injuries, it seems we are finally inching towards the climax of our political drama.
The Senate has been busy holding talks with different parties – university rectors, military chiefs, independent agencies, private bodies and the media – over how to resolve the crisis. A decision on how to make the next move was expected to arrive yesterday.
The key question is whether the Senate has the authority, the legitimacy or the guts to appoint an interim prime minister to end the political deadlock. If it fails to do so, Suthep Thaugsuban, leader of the anti-government protest group, will take matters into his own hands by staging a “people’s coup”. This would be both an audacious and precarious move. The red shirts have threatened violence if an interim prime minister is appointed.
Thai politics is drifting in a vacuum. The Senate is the only legislative body left in operation. The House of Representatives has been out of action since being dissolved on December 9. The country no longer has a sitting prime minister, after the Constitutional Court dismissed Yingluck Shinawatra on May 8 for abuse of power. The ruling Pheu Thai Party is pushing for a fresh election in the wake of February 2’s aborted poll. A date of July 20 has been tentatively set, but chances are slim that the election will go ahead.
Surachai Liengboonlertchai, the Senate speaker, is under pressure to come up with a solution as the crisis drags on. But senators are divided over how or whether they should go ahead and vote in an interim government. Article 7 of the Constitution offers a broad mandate to resolve the political crisis through traditional means in the event that all constitutional laws or legal technicalities are exhausted. But opinions differ on whether Article 7 allows the appointment of an interim prime minister through traditional power and means. Meechai Ruchuphand, an expert on constitutional matters, says that Article 7 cannot be applied in this case because the authority of the caretaker Cabinet remains intact. Only when the whole Cabinet falls can we rely on this extraordinary measure.
But Suthep, who has now led protesters to occupy the country’s seat of power, Government House, has vowed to resort to a “people’s coup” if all other avenues are exhausted. He will stage large rallies over the weekend in a bid to garner as much support as possible. Then on Monday he will resort to Article 3 of the Constitution, which states that the sovereign power belongs to the Thai people, to stage his people’s coup. Acting on behalf of the masses and through Article 3, Suthep will proceed to seek the appointment of an interim prime minister. This sounds crazy to most people, but the protest leader looks deadly serious. If the Senate fails to come up with a way out, on Monday Suthep will ask leaders of the military, the police and the bureaucracy to report to him at Government House.
So, the possible ways out of this crisis are:
1. A fresh election to settle the conflict. (Slim possibility.)
2. The Senate appointing an interim prime minister via Article 7 of the Constitution. (Possible.)
3. Suthep seeking the appointment of an interim prime minister via Article 3 of the Constitution. (Audacious and precarious.)
4. A military coup. (This cannot be ruled out.)
Whichever path is taken, we will see bitter debate between opposing sides and, quite possibly, violence. Let’s hope that the bloodshed is minimal as Thailand reaches the culmination of this crisis.