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Senate may provide breakthrough to end political impasse

THERE are grounds to concur with the view of optimists that Thailand's six-month-long political crisis is about to unfold or is nearing the end.

First, there's the simple fact that nothing lasts forever, something that Buddhism clearly preaches. The People's Democratic Reform Committee cannot indefinitely continue their anti-government rally in the baking sun or the rain day in and day out.

The government camp, meanwhile, cannot stubbornly cling to power after suffering a series of setbacks. Its latest calamity is seeing the country's first female PM Yingluck Shinawatra being removed from her post through what government supporters claim is a "judicial coup". They said Yingluck's decision to remove National Security Council Thawil Pliensri in favour of a relative did not merit the extreme verdict that ousted the PM.

The next judicial casualty could be acting PM Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan. The Election Commission (EC) has suggested it may ask the Constitutional Court to deliver a ruling on whether the acting premier has the authority to countersign a Royal Decree to set a new date for a general election. Such an eventuality would again put the government camp on the back foot.

However, a victory for the anti-government camp is nowhere in sight either. A PDRC call for the Senate Speaker, presidents of the three top courts and the Election Commission chairman to nominate a non-partisan PM based on Article 7 of the charter has met with stony silence from top judges and others. Critics have slammed the proposal, saying it will only expose the justice institution and independent agencies to accusations of taking sides if they accept the PDRC's proposal and act beyond authority or scope of law.

With the country's economy spiralling towards recession and people nationwide suffering the consequences of the power struggle, both sides are under pressure to meet each other halfway. They know there will be no winners if there are clashes and violence because the military will be forced to stage a coup if the situation gets out of control. As Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha has put it: "Soldiers will be the people's last resort".

Calls are getting louder for someone to be a knight in shining armour who can come to the country's rescue. A chink of light in the political darkness shone when newly elected acting Senate Speaker Surachai Liengboonlertchai declared that the Senate was the only institution left that could solve political crisis.

He made the statement after 88 (of 150) members of the Senate met on Tuesday and concluded that the Upper House could play a key role in getting the country out of the political quagmire. Surachai said the Senate would prepare a "road map" in which all parties in the conflict would be given a chance to strike a compromise.\

The Senate's solution may be similar to one suggested recently by a group of academics and peace advocates. That is to appoint an interim government headed by someone with no political affiliation that is accepted by both sides. The government would stay in power temporarily to draft a reform plan, which would go to a public referendum held concurrently with the general election. The referendum result would be legally binding on the next government. Both camps should sign an agreement that whoever wins the next election will be in power for one year. After that the House of Representatives would be dissolved and a snap election called again.

This sounds like a win-win situation because the government camp can have the elections they crave for while the anti-government camp can have reforms before election, as they have long demanded.


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