The Nation



Move for non-elected premier a step backwards

Protesters' push for "perfect democracy" is actually pulling the country back to bad old days of dictatorship

Let us hope that the people of this country play by democratic rules now that the opposition Democrat Party's MPs have all resigned to join protesters in their push for a "perfect democracy".

The opposition party and the demonstrators are demanding that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's government return power to the people. Yingluck's response yesterday - to dissolve the House and call for a new election - is not enough, says the anti-government side, which is continuing its rallies.

The Democrat Party has decided to quit Parliament, but its next step remains unclear. It could file lawsuits against the more than 300 MPs who backed a charter amendment for a fully elected Senate, a move that the Constitutional Court subsequently ruled was unlawful.

What is clear, however, is that another election is not what the Democrats or their fellow protesters want.

As things stand, the opposition has no chance of winning an election and replacing the so-called "Thaksin Shinawatra regime" in power.

Instead, it wants Yingluck to step down so it can install a "neutral" caretaker government that would rule in its favour. This would increase the opposition's chances of victory at the ballot box.

However, there is no clear legal provision for installing an interim government outside the electoral system. Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban and his legal advisers have suggested that, as head of state, His Majesty the King could apply Section 7 of the Constitution to allow for the appointment of a non-elected prime minister and caretaker government while a "people's council" drafts new rules for a new "game".

But Section 7 simply says: "Whenever no provision under this Constitution is applicable to any case, it shall be decided in accordance with the constitutional convention in the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State." Suthep faces great difficulty in twisting this proviso to mean that His Majesty should choose someone for the top government job rather than the broad electorate. In 2006 the King decided he had no authority to do so in such a situation and deemed the notion undemocratic.

The charter stipulates that the "constitutional convention in the democratic regime of government" is to have an elected prime minister. Anything else would violate democratic norms. Of course, this country has a long history of non-elected premiers, but we only have to review the record of dictatorships over the years to see how disastrous they can be. Elections are still the best way to choose a leader - and the only way in a country that wishes to call itself democratic.

One solution that could prevent injury to our democratic system - and to the lives of protesters calling for "perfect democracy" - is for both sides to sit down and discuss amending the charter to allow for a national referendum and a national assembly to draft a new Constitution. Such a transition was possible under the 1997 Constitution. It would certainly ease the current political pressure and might stave off bloodshed as well.

In contrast, the Democrats' decision to join protests in a bid to force the government to hand over power opens the way for a coup, or something equivalent. Rather than fostering "perfect democracy", it actually weakens our democratic system.

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