Chuan will maintain order in the House
With his lengthy, solid political experience, the Democrat Party's chief adviser Chuan Leekpai has rekindled public hope that he, in his capacity as House Speaker, can restore the image of the legislative body, and make it functional and dignified once again.
Mr Chuan is to begin this crucial task today when the lower and upper Houses vote for a new prime minister at a joint meeting.
Upon being elected House Speaker in a somewhat chaotic first meeting of the lower House on May 25, Mr Chuan, who last held this high position in 1986, told the media: "I believe in the parliamentary system." He also pledged to restore the institution.
With his experience as an old hand in the Thai parliamentary system, there is little if any doubt about his calibre given that the veteran politician has now twice been elected to the role of House speaker. He is also a two-time PM and three-time opposition leader. Under his guidance, the Democrat Party always played the role of a very strong opposition.
In principle, the country's three main institutions, namely the executive, legislative and judicial branches, are supposed to be independent of each other as they, at the same time, maintain a balance. But over past decades, our parliament has been battered by some unscrupulous politicians who shamefully intervened in its work until it became weak and crippled, to the point where many people thought the country could fare just as well without a parliament at all. This, unfortunately, made members of the public upset and fed up with politics.
Meanwhile, over the past four years, the coup-installed National Legislative Assembly has become little more than a rubber stamp for the military regime.
Mr Chuan, 80, won the race to become the House speaker in the May 25 parliamentary session, beating Sompong Amornwiwat of the Pheu Thai Party.
With profound knowledge in law and parliamentary rules, the Democrats' chief adviser will be like a "schoolmaster" for the younger generation of politicians when they compete for attention in House sessions. This role is even more crucial at a time when the country is trapped in a cycle of post-coup political divisions.
One of the main duties of House speaker is to present the name of the next prime minister for His Majesty the King's endorsement. He must also ensure that parliament can carry out its duty without interference from the executive branch, and keep the political games that will be played in House sessions fair and clean.
Despite his soft-spoken style, he has impressed his friends and foes alike with speeches which are always sharp and meaningful. At one time, he even outwitted maverick politician Chalerm Ubumrung in parliament.
Mr Chuan will need to showcase his extraordinary political skills and tactics in order to keep parliament functioning, including the deliberation of vital laws such as the Budget Bill, as well as gaining recognition from those in the executive branch.
Some observers anticipate chaos in parliament today as parties scramble to secure the seat of prime minister for their nominated figure. But an old hand like Mr Chuan should be able to handle the situation well and keep things under control, meeting public expectations while trying to fulfil his dream that the legislative body should once again become a beacon of hope.
Nauvarat Suksamran is assistant news editor, Bangkok Post.