Govt has a knack for self-sabotage
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Govt has a knack for self-sabotage

Protesters hold a placard depicting Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin during a rally in Bangkok on June 1. Bloomberg
Protesters hold a placard depicting Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin during a rally in Bangkok on June 1. Bloomberg

Behind the backdrop of a sluggish economy, Thailand is entering a new phase of political uncertainty that threatens to drive the government into turmoil and plunge the ailing economy into deeper trouble.

Pitifully, the reason is short-sighted judgements by the core coalition party, Pheu Thai, which can be traced back to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The predicament confronted by Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin is one glaring example. Why on earth did he choose to appoint Phichit Chuenban as PM's Office minister when he served a six-month jail term over the "snack box" scandal?

There are dozens of legal experts in the party who could do the job and have a clean record. Is it because Phichit is the Shinawatra family's long-time lawyer?

Although Phichit tendered his resignation to spare the prime minister the embarrassment of potential legal challenges, the prime minister is not out of the woods yet.

That explains why he recently recruited former deputy prime minister Wissanu Krea-ngam, one of Thailand's top legal hands, to help him out with his defence before the Constitutional Court against attempts by senators to get him removed. But it is doubtful if the belated arrival of the legal guru will be of much help as he is already mid-way to the gallows.

A group of 40 senators accused Mr Srettha of violating the constitution which specifies that ministers must have "evidential integrity"; in their view, Phichit does not fit the ethical standards requirement.

Mr Srettha's defence is based on his "honest" belief that his appointment is legitimate and lawful. The prime minister consulted the Council of State, the government's legal adviser, before making his decision.

At this stage, his political future is on the line. If he survives, he can carry on but it won't be long before another bombshell drops, as the Pheu Thai Party pushes for an amnesty bill for all political offenders dating back to 2005.

If he is removed from office by the court, his entire cabinet will collapse, and a new round of political bargaining to form a government will begin. But he will be spared the political consequences of the amnesty bill.

Although the Pheu Thai Party will be in a better position than other parties to form a government, given the likelihood that the Move Forward Party shortly will be dissolved by the Constitutional Court, that task is easier said than done due to the party's prime ministerial candidate, Paetongtarn Shinawatra's unreadiness to assume the post. The other candidate, Chaikasem Nitisiri, has a serious health problem.

The Move Forward Party's chances of survival are slim given the fact the court in January ruled the party guilty of attempting to overthrow the constitutional monarchy. For the same nine judges to overturn their own ruling seems unthinkable.

Of course, the threat of dissolution is not new for this progressive party: its progenitor Future Forward was ordered dissolved for violating the election law.

Yet it will take some time for the Move Forward party to regather its forces. It might have to rename and rebrand before it can rise up again, though Pita Limjaroenrat, the party's chief adviser, reckons it will be no less formidable than in the past.

Guess who are next in line to be the next prime minister? Gen Prawit Wongsuwan of the Palang Pracharath Party, Anutin Charnvirakul of Bhumjaithai, Pirapan Salirathavibhaga of United Thai Nation and Jurin Laksanawisit of the Democrats.

Pity Thailand! Where have all the inspiring, qualified leaders gone?

Besides the fallout from Mr Srettha's possible removal from the office, the Pheu Thai Party appears keen to add salt to the wound by courting trouble with its amnesty bill which has been seen as a move to spare Thaksin from the wrath of the lese majeste law after he was charged by public prosecutors. He is scheduled to report to the Criminal Court on June 18 to be formally indicted.

Unlike the Move Forward Party which openly advocates amending the lese majeste law and demanding the release or bail of all offenders charged with the offence, the Pheu Thai Party has always kept its mouth shut on this sensitive issue. It is fair to say the party looked indifferent to the ordeal of those charged, prosecuted or convicted for committing the office.

But all of a sudden, the party abruptly changed tack and is spearheading a move to push for a universal amnesty bill to pardon all political offenders since 2005, including Thaksin, only a few days after he was hit with the lese majeste charge by prosecutors.

The party has seized the opportunity to champion the cause of national reconciliation to put an end to the decades-old political divide so the country can move forward.

The party seems not to have learned its lesson after it proposed an amnesty bill to parliament in 2013 during the Yingluck government to pardon political offenders who had taken part in anti-government protests since 2005 as well as then government leaders, including Thaksin, Abhisit Vejjajiva and Suthep Thuagsuban, who were responsible for cracking down on the protesters.

The bill was endorsed by 310:0 votes with four abstentions at 4.25am on Oct 31, 2013. It sparked a public uproar, leading to mass protests and the eventual dissolution of parliament by then prime minister Yingluck. The bill was ditched.

Will this bill meet a similar fate? Time will tell. However, it doesn't take a genius to realise that it would be more beneficial to the country if the anti-Thaksin sentiment which has waned during his 15 years of living in exile is not reignited by the current amnesty bill being considered by the Pheu Thai Party. The party must tread carefully, or it could all get very messy.

Veera Prateepchaikul

Former Editor

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

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