Road ahead for MFP full of uncertainty
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Road ahead for MFP full of uncertainty

Protesters flash three finger salutes outside parliament during a rally calling on senators to back Move Forward Party leader and prime ministerial candidate Pita Limjaroenrat. AFP
Protesters flash three finger salutes outside parliament during a rally calling on senators to back Move Forward Party leader and prime ministerial candidate Pita Limjaroenrat. AFP

Given the majority of 313 House seats out of 500 won by the coalition parties led by the Move Forward Party (MFP), Pita Limjaroenrat, that party's prime ministerial candidate, should rightfully become Thailand's 30th prime minister.

Despite the overwhelming victory, the road to Government House for Mr Pita is strewn with obstacles.

Section 272 in the charter, the party's radical take on how Section 112, also known as the lese majeste law, should be amended; the case of Mr Pita's iTV share ownership; and above all the political wheeling-dealing among the eight parties that signed MoU to form the government last week all risk tripping him up.

First, let us talk about the 2017 constitution. The latest charter, the 20th since 1932, was crafted by its framers under the influence of the coupmakers. It is at best a pseudo-democratic charter.

The charter writers agreed on putting one article in the transitional provisions, Section 272, requiring the PM candidate to receive the approval of more than one-half of the combined House and Senate to be appointed, despite the fact the senators are unelected.

Originally, Section 272 was believed to open doors for an outsider prime minister -- one not nominated by parties.

The charter writers at that time reasoned Section 272 was a last resort to solve deadlocks should nominees for the job not win enough votes from the Lower House or face legal qualification problems.

MFP will have to deal with Section 272 as its candidate will need the support of at least 63 votes from the senators out of a total of 250, or one-fourths of the Senate.

This happens because MFP itself may not be able to draw that number of votes from parties on the opposite site such as the 68 votes held by the Bhumjaithai Party.

Pheu Thai has suggested Move Forward "flip the off switch" on Section 272 by bypassing the junta-appointed senators to seek the support of elected MPs in Lower House instead.

Interestingly, Move Forward chose the more difficult road. The party is adamant about seeking support from among the eight coalition parties only, and trying to secure the 63 votes from the junta-appointed Senate to make Mr Pita the next prime minister.

If the prospective prime minister came from another coalition party, securing the 63 votes needed from senators should be easier. Many senators would feel more comfortable voting for other parties in the line-up.

Move Forward's radical policies, particularly the one concerning the lese majeste law or Section 112 of the Criminal Code, scare many conservative senators, among them active and retired military officers and senior civil servants who have vowed allegiance to the monarchy.

Even Pheu Thai and Thai Sang Thai, two other coalition partners, have announced they will not support MFP's proposed lese majeste law amendments.

The issue of Section 112 is about more than whether or not the lese majeste law should be amended.

Kaewsan Atibodhi, a former law lecturer at Thammasat University and ex-senator, said despite MFP's denials to the contrary, the party's bill on the amendment of Section 112 "does not seek to amend, but abrogate" the lese majeste law.

The law is designed to protect the monarchy for the sake of national security. The party's bill would deprive the public of the right to file lese majeste charges against alleged offenders and puts the onus on the Bureau of the Royal Household to take such action; it also reduces lese majeste penalties to a maximum of one month instead of years so they resemble ordinary defamation cases between civilians.

Mr Kaewsan said the bill will put the Bureau of the Royal Household in direct conflict with the people and strip the monarchy of legal protection against defamation. It would also reduce the status of the monarchy to the same level as civilians.

Unless Move Forward drops or softens its position on the lese majeste law, it will be difficult for the party to secure the votes it needs to fulfil Mr Pita's quest for the prime minister's post.

Another obstacle for Mr Pita is his ownership of 42,000 shares in the ITV media company which was brought to the attention of the Election Commission by activist Ruangkrai Leekitwattana, a former Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) list-MP candidate.

If the allegation is found to have grounds, the case will be sent to the Constitutional Court with a recommendation that Mr Pita should be disqualified as an electoral candidate.

Mr Pita may feel at ease regarding his chances given a recent ruling by the Supreme Court in a case in which a Democrat electoral candidate, Charnchai Issarasenarak, was accused of holding 200 shares in Advance Info Services.

The court ruled the amount of shares held by Mr Charnchai was too small and did not give him any control of the operations of the company. It dismissed the case.

As a matter of fact, the provision barring electoral candidates from holding stakes in media companies is now outdated. Written to stop politicians from exploiting the media to gain influence, this legislation has become a straitjacket which has resulted in the dissolution of parties without any clear sign that it helps make the media more free.

The media landscape has changed radically with the advent of social media. Anybody now can own and operate a social media outlet if he/she owns a laptop.

The much reported tussle over the House speakership between the Future Forward and Pheu Thai parties has given the impression that the parties may end up breaking up, resulting in the collapse of the coalition. The matter is expected to be sorted out through negotiations instead of noisy rhetoric by individuals who are not involved in the talks.

Move Forward should be reminded that it is not the real owner who can take all. More importantly, without Pheu Thai, the coalition will not be possible.

The prospect of the conservative bloc forming an alternative government appears to be a distant dream. Their days are numbered as change has already taken place. Thailand's new generation yearns for change even though they don't yet know if the new government can deliver the change they seek.

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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