The journey back to square one begins

The journey back to square one begins

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha gestures to the media after a cabinet meeting on Tuesday. The Constitutional Court has accepted the opposition's petition challenging his eligibility for the role. WICHAN CHAROENKIATPAKUL
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha gestures to the media after a cabinet meeting on Tuesday. The Constitutional Court has accepted the opposition's petition challenging his eligibility for the role. WICHAN CHAROENKIATPAKUL

Most political pundits believe Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha's 19-party coalition government will not last long for a number of reasons.

Foremost of all is the government's slim majority in the Lower House which will put a heavy burden on the government whips to make sure there are enough government MPs in the chamber to make up a quorum or enough MPs in for votes on important bills.

Simmering resentment amid some factions in the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) over cabinet seat sharing or the disappointment of numerous smaller parties in the coalition about being marginalised by the prime minister, although contained for now, may explode into open rebellion in the future.

Last Friday, however, a new problem surfaced which may render the government's lifespan even shorter.

That is the Constitutional Court's decision to accept the opposition's petition challenging the eligibility of the prime minister due to his past status as the head of the junta or the National Council or Peace and Order.

The opposition has insisted that Gen Prayut, in his capacity as the NCPO chief, was a state official because the junta was regarded as a "sovereign authority".

According to the constitution, they argue he should be barred from assuming the post-election premiership.

How the prime minister will defend his case in the court remains to be seen. But he definitely will need the help of the government's top legal expert, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam.

But how the court treats the case is much more important and will be more closely watched, especially by the opposition in the wake of another case which was accepted by the court on the same day.

The other case concerns the Future Forward Party, its leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, party secretary-general Piyabutr Saenkannokkul and the executive committee. They were accused by a lawyer for acts deemed hostile to the constitutional monarchy.

If the charter court agrees with Gen Prayut's defence, his prime minister's status will remain intact and his cabinet can get on with the job.

But if he loses the case, his premiership will come to an end along with his political career as well as his ambitious 20-year national strategy.

Worse, the coalition government will be thrown into chaos like a ship of the state that has become rudderless.

I don't think any of the deputy prime ministers has the leadership quality to hold the coalition government together in one piece.

Media reports that either former Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva or Bhumjaithai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul may emerge as Gen Prayut's successor are too good to be true as they do not have military backing. Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon who played the backdoor role in putting together the coalition alliance is a bad choice for his tainted past record over the wristwatch scandal.

The opposition will not be able to form a government either, even if Bhumjaithai and the smaller parties from the coalition alliance switch camps because they will still fall short of the 376 votes necessary from the Senate and the Lower House for their prime ministerial candidate to be approved. Unless most of the PPRP jump ship and defect too, which is unlikely.

This unexpected court case will give the prime minister a wake-up call for what he will face in real parliamentary politics, unlike his five-year experience with the submissive National Legislative Assembly.

The opposition will seize every opportunity that arises to make his life difficult, after what they went through under the junta's rule.

All the talk about constructive politics by the government or the opposition is just rhetoric for the gullible. The country may advance through economic development and technology, but many politicians are still stuck in their old ways of doing things and driven by self-righteousness.

Ultimately, we could end up back at square one -- unable to move forward and unable to effect changes for the better.

Veera Prateepchaikul is former editor, Bangkok Post.

Veera Prateepchaikul

Former Editor

Former Bangkok Post Editor, political commentator and a regular columnist at Post Publishing.

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