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No, not everything is broken; but the gridlock can't last forever

The pressure is on for all parties in the conflict to strike a compromise if they are to remain significant players in the national political landscape. The showdown has reached the point where neither side can call the shots. They now realise that the stalemate can't last forever.

Both the caretaker government and the protesting People's Democratic Reform Council (PDRC) realise their bargaining positions aren't as strong as the image they project to the public.

Arguments on both sides are equally flawed. It is doubtful that Niwatthumrong Boonsongpaisan, the acting premier, can claim full authority as prime minister.

Equally questionable is whether PDRC leader Suthep Thaugsuban can constitutionally justify his call for a "neutral prime minister" based on provisions of Article 7 of the charter.

The ball has been passed on to Senator Surachai Liengboonlertchai, who was voted in as acting president of the Upper House, awaiting the countersignature of a legitimate prime minister.

Niwatthumrong insists he has the authority to countersign a Royal Decree to set a new date for a general election. But the independent agency in charge - the Election Commission (EC) - isn't so sure. The EC has suggested that if the legal interpretations get complicated, it may ask the Constitutional Court to deliver a ruling on the acting premier's real authority.

But Surachai doesn't need anyone to countersign a Royal appointment. As deputy president, he is already acting Senate president because the president, Nikhom Virachpanich, has been suspended by an order of the charter court for his role in the passage of charter amendments.

Surachai is now the key player in seeking a solution to the long-drawn-out conflict. He let Suthep into the Senate for a discussion after calling an informal meeting of senators to discuss a possible way out of the country's crisis.

That Suthep, backed by his mass of PRDC protesters, managed to hold talks with the Senate's acting president, lent weight to his call for the country's top judges, EC and senators to find a "neutral prime minister."

But Surachai can't be seen to be taking sides. He held a "consultative session" with about 88 (of 150) members of the Senate and the consensus was that the Upper House should play a crucial role in getting the country out of the gridlock.

He listened to Suthep's plea on Monday - and the Senate session resumed the following day, with the understanding that all parties in the conflict would be given a chance to state their cases, before the Senate president commences his mediation to find a path out of the showdown.

The deadlock can't go on indefinitely. The government demands an election. The PDRC calls for a reform process before an election. An election can't proceed smoothly without a political settlement that incorporates a reform agenda. The PDRC can't hope to declare "victory" without a timeframe for an election.

The acting Senate president is therefore plotting a roadmap that is acceptable to both sides. The only obvious solution is for a compromise: An interim government headed by a non-partisan technocrat with no apparent political affiliation that is reasonably acceptable to both parties.

The proposed roadmap must guarantee a clear timeframe leading up to a new general election that will be contested by the opposition Democrat Party, which boycotted the February 2 polls.

The proposed plan must also include a clear reform process as demanded by PDRC, including the formation of a broad-based assembly representing all walks of life to draw up a new charter that will offer some genuine reform measures before the next election is called, perhaps within 12 to 18 months.

Key factors for success are goodwill and trust. Mutual suspicion has undermined previous behind-the-scenes talks, with both sides recalling past "back-stabbings" in their political dealings.

But with each side having painted itself into a corner, the pressure is growing for concessions that will enable them to ride the reform-election wave together, no matter how precarious and tentative the proposed "way out of the worst-case scenario".


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