New forum on postponing the election is too little, too late

opinion January 16, 2014 00:00

By Suthichai Yoon
The Nation

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For some inexplicable reason, the caretaker government has been a few steps behind the fast-moving political developments, rendering every major move it has taken futile and even embarrassingly defensive.

Just as the Bangkok shutdown began with a bang on Monday, Premier Yingluck Shinawatra instructed one of her deputies, Pongthep Thepkanjana, to send invitations to 70 organisations, including 53 political parties, the supreme commander and the Constitutional Court, to attend a specially convened forum to discuss how the election was to be handled.
There were indications that the premier might be willing, after weeks of standing firm against any change in the ballot-casting date of February 2, to discuss a postponement. But a few hours later, one of her aides told the press that the hastily called meeting was not about “postponing the election”. The topic was to be about the election, period.  
That’s another example of taking one step forward, two steps back. That has been the government’s pattern all along. And it has undermined its legitimacy on many counts.
The caretaker administration’s latest gesture was a curious twist that has raised questions about its working relationship with the Election Commission (EC), another independent agency that has come under attack by the government and ruling Pheu Thai Party for one simple reason: It doesn’t necessarily have to toe the government’s line.
The five Election Commissioners earlier this week submitted a report to Premier Yingluck detailing the problems they are facing in organising the February 2 poll that could mean we end up with a confusing state of affairs. With 28 constituencies with no candidates and 22 others with only one candidate each, the likelihood is high that the election will not deliver the required 95 per cent of MPs. Under that scenario, the new parliament could not be convened. That means a new government could not form either.
Instead of sitting down with the Election Commissioners to thrash out a solution, Premier Yingluck sent invitations to 70-odd organisations for a meeting yesterday to discuss the EC’s proposal. That was nothing if not a slap in the face for the country’s election agency. The EC decided not to attend the meeting, rendering it a non-starter from the outset.
The caretaker government made the same blunder a few weeks ago when it invited a panel, supposedly led by the supreme commander, to work out a plan to set up a “Reform Council” that would pre-empt the protestors’ “People’s Council”. The scheme has so far failed to take off and it seems to have died a natural death – for the same reason that yesterday’s forum was stillborn: It wasn’t supposed to be a serious move in the first place.
The deadlock has deepened and there doesn’t seem to be a way out – unless the premier offers an initiative that convinces the public she is ready to make a sacrifice in order to reach a compromise.
The protesters are demanding her resignation. She has said she can’t step aside because the Constitution requires her to stay put. The government says the election can’t be postponed either – because it claims that the Constitution says so. None of these excuses hold water. Academics and legal experts have cited clauses in the charter that could provide a way out of the current impasse.
If the government refuses to reach out for a breakthrough by holding talks with the other side, the country will be heading towards “failed state” status at a very dangerous speed indeed.