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Post-Songkran politics: Worst-case scenario isn't an option

Most analysts say a new round of confrontation between the caretaker government and the protesting PDRC (People's Democratic Reform Council), this time even more explosive than before, awaits the country after the annual Songkran festival.

Both sides plan to step up their fight to win this last-ditch battle. The PDRC is gunning for the fall of Premier Yingluck Shinawatra, with the upcoming verdicts from the Constitutional Court and the Anti-Corruption Commission due any time now.

If things go its way, the premier would have to step down and the whole Cabinet probably kicked out. A "political vacuum" would ensue and PDRC's Secretary General Suthep Thuangsuban would pursue his plan to seek a royal appointment of a new premier under Article 3 of the Constitution along with the installation of a "People's Assembly" and "people's government" to pursue reform before new elections are held.

But the ruling Pheu Thai Party, together with the red shirts and the caretaker government, are ready to fight back. Premier Yingluck has taken the unusual step of publicly asking the court to be "fair" to her, indicating that any negative verdict would be considered unacceptable to the powers-that-be. She has also suggested that the Anti-Corruption Commission has adopted different standards towards her, when compared to its treatment of other politicians on similar charges.

Yingluck says she has been given too short a time to prepare her defence against the allegations of corruption in the controversial rice-pledging policy. She has also insisted that she was exercising her authority under the charter when she transferred Tawil Pliensri from the post of secretary general of the National Security Council to an advisory role. The Administrative Court had earlier ruled that the move was illegal and that she had to reinstate Tawil in the post.

Yingluck's position, to say the least, is precarious indeed. But the government has laid down its counter-attack by arguing that even if she is found guilty in one or both of the cases, one of her deputies could still be made caretaker premier in her place, thereby pre-empting any attempt by the PDRC to install a "reform government" that would sideline the Pheu Thai Party for an extended period of time.

The red shirts have vowed to hold a major rally if the rulings against the premier result in her removal from the top political position. Meanwhile, the PDRC protesters have insisted that the premier must relinquish her post and the Cabinet stand down if she is found guilty. Otherwise, another major protest would be on the way.

There is some confusion within the government and Pheu Thai over what strategy to follow. Last Friday, the interim justice minister, Chaikasem Nitisiri, said he would ask the government to invoke Section 7 of the charter to seek His Majesty the King's recommendations if the court was to disqualify Yingluck. The next day, several prominent members of Pheu Thai distanced themselves from the minister, explaining that he was expressing his personal opinion, and that Pheu Thai was only pursuing one track - towards a new general election.

Section 7 of the Constitution is seen as an emergency measure to handle unforeseen problems or a political deadlock. The PDRC has at times cited the possibility of invoking this section together with Section 3 to topple Yingluck and form an interim government to fill the political vacuum - a move strongly opposed by the Yingluck caretaker government.

Is the country set for another violent confrontation? If things go according to both sides' current scripts, things could get out of hand and the Army may be forced to intervene - a highly undesirable option.

But the worst-case scenario needn't be the only way out of the crisis. In fact, both parties are duty-bound to negotiate for a breakthrough to avoid such a calamitous prediction. But "negotiations" don't lead to settlement if both sides are simply putting forward their own conditions without reaching "mutually acceptable" formulae.

In fact, both parties have some common ground on which to build a compromise solution that would remain within the democratic framework. Both want elections to take place. It's a question of timing and whether the "interim administration" will operate to push for reform and elections that will best suit national interests.

The disagreement basically stems from both parties clinging to their extreme positions. Neither side will get all their demands met. They realise that somehow the middle ground is the only place from which a solution can emerge. Resorting to a violent confrontation to tip the scale in one side's favour would be the most irresponsible act. The "winner" in such a scenario would soon find that its "victory" by force was unsustainable anyway.


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