That Thailand will get an interim government is now inevitable. The tenure of Yingluck Shinawatra's caretaker administration will end unceremoniously on April 1.
Constitutionally speaking, it cannot last beyond that deadline. Let me explain:
The February 2 election will fail to create a new government. The Constitution requires that a new Parliament be convened not more than 30 days after the general election. But it is clear that the Election Commission will not be able to certify the outcome of the election, marred as it was by legal violations and missing results. The election saw a turnout of 46 per cent amid disruptions at the polls, a widespread boycott, invalid and “vote no” ballots. The ruling Pheu Thai Party is believed to have mustered about 8 million votes – a far cry from its peak of 15-16 million. Support for the Democrat Party traditionally ranges between 12 million and 14 million votes. As a result, there won’t be the 95 per cent of elected MPs needed to convene the first session of Parliament by March 1. Only the Senate will be able to convene its parliamentary session on that date, while not a single MP will be present in the House of Representatives.
Next, the Constitution requires that within 30 days of the first parliamentary session, the House of Representatives must vote in a new prime minister so that he or she can then form a Cabinet. This means that the deadline to vote in the new prime minister is April 1. If that deadline is not met, the Yingluck administration will automatically lose its caretaker status. At that point, we will be at the end of the road. Thailand will immediately plunge into a power vacuum because of the absence of a legal government.
In that case, as stated in Article 3 of the Constitution, the sovereign power temporarily entrusted to the government via the electoral process will be handed back to the people. And since a country cannot function without a government, a new prime minister can be appointed to form an interim government via Article 7 of the Constitution. The president of the Senate will forward the name of the candidate to serve as Thailand’s next prime minister to His Majesty the King for royal endorsement.
April 1 is still a long way off. The Suthep Thaugsuban-led Occupy Bangkok Movement has been placing pressure on Yingluck Shinawatra to resign as caretaker premier, but to no avail. Yingluck has only two choices on the table: either she voluntarily resigns now to pave the way for the formation of an interim government, or she drags her feet until April 1 when her caretaker status expires.
The first course of action will smooth the transition to the interim government, which should lay down important structural reforms to strengthen Thailand’s competitiveness in the long run. But we all know that Yingluck and her backer, Thaksin Shinawatra, will not let go of political power easily. So Yingluck is more likely to hang on beyond April 1 by arguing that the caretaker government will only go after the new government steps in. But time is not on her side. Along the way, there are several time bombs.
The most serious threat to Yingluck’s caretaker status is farmers’ anger. The farmers have been cheated of the money owed to them by the government under the rice-pledging scheme. They could now revolt, because there is no way the government can come up with Bt130 billion to pay them, given the scheme’s rampant corruption and the complete failure to secure the proceeds from rice sales. The National Anti-Corruption Commission is scheduled to rule on whether the caretaker prime minister was knowingly involved in, or should be held liable for, corruption in the rice-pledging scheme. The axe could be about to fall on Yingluck in this case.
It will be interesting to see whether the prime minister can find a way out of the corner she has painted herself into.