If neither side blinks first, they will have to blink together

opinion March 20, 2014 00:00

By Suthichai Yoon
The Nation

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You could say their attempt was aborted. But when the six independent agencies proposed on Monday that both sides of the conflict come up with 10 names so that identical personalities could form the "mediation team" to end the country's long drawn-out fac

You can’t say they didn’t have the best intentions of finding a way that would be acceptable to the conflicting parties. But the news leak that the country’s leading independent agencies were offering themselves as “honest brokers” put the caretaker government on alert. The Yingluck administration was quick to pour cold water on the proposal. Likewise, the protesting side was equally quick in shooting down the compromise formula.
Still, they should be praised for their desperate attempt to put an end to the country’s political crisis. They were leaders of six independent agencies under the Constitution: The Election Commission, National Human Rights Commission, Office of the Ombudsman, National Anti-Corruption Commission, Office of the Auditor-General and National Economic and Social Advisory Council.
The Public Prosecutor’s Office, which had earlier been cited as the seventh member of the group, pulled out at the last minute, citing the fact that participating in the exercise could compromise its official role. Whether or not the Public Prosecutor’s Office was represented in the earlier discussions of the group, it was clear that a consensus was forming among various private and public bodies that if politicians couldn’t find a way out for the country, they were duty-bound to seek a solution – before the country goes down the drain.
The “solution”, obviously, was to get the warring parties to accept the fact that only the process of negotiation could help them get off the tiger’s back. Neither side can claim victory now, or expect the other side to back down in the near future, since the seesaw game at the moment doesn’t point to a decisive win for one side or the other.
The caretaker government is stuck in a political dead-end. One of several “political time-bombs” now ticking could explode and effectively end its status as the caretaker government – or Prime Minister Yingluck could be forced to give up her post by one of the verdicts to be handed down by the Constitutional Court and Anti-Corruption Commission.
The rice-pledging fiasco and the Constitutional Court’s decision that the Bt2-trillion loan bill for infrastructure construction was unconstitutional and illegal have thrown the Yingluck government into a political abyss. It’s still in power legally but it is virtually paralysed politically. 
The convoluted election process has yet to be completed and, without a compromise, the hope is remote that the rest of the ballot-casting in 28 southern constituencies can be carried out smoothly. That means that chances of a new Parliament being convened and a premier appointed are anything but good. 
On the other hand, the People’s Democratic Reform Council (PDRC) led by Suthep Thaugsuban isn’t in a position to dictate the next step forward on the political calendar either. Even if Yingluck is driven out of office for one reason or another, the PDRC’s call for a “non-partisan prime minister” and a “People’s Assembly” has yet to find a legal framework that could legitimise such a move. The PDRC has cited the possibility of naming a “neutral prime minister” in case of a “political vacuum” under Article 7 of the Constitution. But that scenario would be unprecedented and could set off another constitutional crisis due to interpretations of the law that go against it.
Any attempt at a solution would therefore have to come from the realisation on both sides that they can’t strike a deal without conceding some of their conditions. And that’s what several groups of academics, businessmen – and now leaders of the independent agencies – have tried to persuade the parties at war to accept, but to no avail.
But short of a civil war or a military coup, there doesn’t seem to be another viable option. Talks have taken place behind the scenes but the main stumbling blocks remain the “impossible” conditions put forward by both parties.
But patience will win in the end. Both sides know they can’t stick to their unshakeable stances forever. A compromise of sorts will emerge. A “provisional government” and a “reform assembly” in some form will be set up.
When neither side is ready to blink first, they will have to blink together. “Honest brokers” are still working hard behind the scenes. They just have to keep quiet until it’s the right time to talk.