Eyes on Senate as clock ticks down for PM

national March 10, 2014 00:00

By Somroutai Sapsomboon
The Nati

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With Yingluck caught in serious legal strife, focus is turning to the Senate poll, Pheu Thai and a possible power vacuum

The People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) and other perceived opponents of the Yingluck Shinawatra government are coming close to throwing a knockout punch. 
They have delivered several heavy blows against the government before. But now, they are more convinced than ever that a clear victory is in sight. 
The House of Representatives, after all, has already failed to convene within 30 days of the February 2 general election. 
With the House not having a quorum of 95 per cent of MPs, a vote cannot be held for a new prime minister. 
What has happened here, while the caretaker government is in power, is clearly against legal stipulations. 
So last Friday, for those reasons, the PDRC’s legal team called on the Constitutional Court to rule on the status of caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. 
Today, appointed Senator Paiboon Nititawan will also ask the Senate speaker to petition the Constitutional Court for a ruling on whether Yingluck can still remain in power. 
Paiboon will point at the Supreme Administrative Court’s finding that her order to transfer Thawil Pliensri from head of the National Security Council was improper.
Last Friday, the court also ordered Thawil’s reinstatement within 45 days. 
“From Thawil’s case, it is clear Yingluck has violated the Constitution. She has meddled in reshuffles of officials,” Paiboon said. 
The latest moves by the anti-government camp have already caused big worries among Pheu Thai members.
“If the Constitutional Court rules against Yingluck and removes her as prime minister, the whole Cabinet may come crumbling down too. In that case, the PDRC will get the political vacuum it wants,” a Pheu Thai source said.
The PDRC has pressed Yingluck to resign from her post as caretaker prime minister since late last year, to create a political vacuum, which the group says will pave the way for the much-needed “reform before election”.
While the PDRC street protests have been huge at times, Yingluck has not bowed to the pressure to move aside. 
Besides street protests, she also faces probes related to other alleged wrongdoing or negligence. The National Anti-Corruption Commission, for example, is investigating her for her role in the controversial rice-pledging scheme. 
But none of the inquiries seems serious enough to bring down her whole Cabinet.
Pheu Thai Party, which leads the current government, believes that as long as it can name a successor for Yingluck, it won’t be a problem if she has to go. 
Pheu Thai also thinks it can cope with the repercussions of any court decision to nullify the February 2 election because it believes it can do well if it has to contest a new election. 
So, the utmost fear of the Yingluck camp now is a political vacuum. 
The PDRC is apparently biding its time to set up a People’s Government or “neutral” government. 
So if there is a political vacuum that prevents Pheu Thai from being able to name a national leader, the PDRC can quickly pursue its plan.
In the event of a political vacuum, the Senate speaker will become a key man because he has the authority to present the name of the new prime minister for royal endorsement.
The PDRC has been trying hard to get Nikom Wairatpanij kicked out of the Senate-speaker’s post for quite a long time already for this reason. The PDRC prefers the First Deputy Senate Speaker Surachai Liengboonlertchai to Nikom. If Nikom is out of the way, Surachai is seen as more likely to respond to any requests from the PDRC.
Nikom’s term as an elected senator expired earlier this month. A half-Senate election will be held on March 30 to fill 77 non-appointed seats. Nikom still serves as Senate speaker because the law requires that he stays in charge until the new Senate speaker is chosen. 
Many politicians have fielded family members, close aides or canvassers in the Senate ballot as they are well aware that the Senate may be able to control the political game. 
Although the red shirts continue to support the Yingluck government and her party, they may not be able to make much of a difference if the Army maintains its presence. 
With military checkpoints ringing Bangkok, the Army’s intention is clear. 
The PDRC and its supporters believe that success is just around the corner now that Yingluck is ensnared in many serious legal predicaments. 
And the red shirts can’t be Yingluck’s saviours this time. 
But will the political game really go the way the PDRC expects? Or will there be a surprise ending? 

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