A lot of us have managed to stay sane throughout the Songkran festival. But the political fires that were raging well before the holidays couldn’t be doused with a splash of water.
As anti-government protesters prepare a celebration for the caretaker premier being shown the door — expected soon as the Constitutional Court prepares to rule on the Thawil Pliensri transfer case and the National Anti-Corruption Commission prepares its findings on rice-pledging scheme graft — many can’t get over the enormously puzzling question: What next?
It’s probably a dreaded, divisive question mark for the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) protesters, even though they would be eager to know the answer just like everyone else.
By their own admission, the protesters have clearly underestimated the prime minister’s tenacity in clinging to power, which is why the protest has lasted as long as it has.
In just a few more days the PDRC will break the record held by the People’s Alliance for Democracy for staging a continuous street protest for 193 days back in 2008.
PDRC campers in Lumpini Park are worn out, and armchair supporters at home may be growing tempted to switch away from Blue Sky for a break. It’s only a spontaneous and almost a knee-jerk reaction that the protesters should ask what the future holds and when the whole political tussle will boil over.
But the "what next" query on everyone’s lips is tied to the scenario that Yingluck Shinawatra may soon be out of the picture and a "neutral prime minister" named to herald in a national reform agenda. Lurking behind the protesters' confidence that Ms Yingluck’s days are now numbered is the fear of what will become of the country if and when she is purged.
The reality could be far more fluid than we believe, as the Pheu Thai Party and its army of faithful have vowed not to accept "fate" lying down. When uncertainty is certain, posing the "what next" question can sound superfluous and even leave some peeved at not being able to envision the future going their way.
From the M79 grenade blasts on the streets, the momentum of the battle has shifted to the pages of the law. But the constitution is open to interpretation and the hope for any legal clarity, particularly on how a neutral prime minister can be installed, could end in disarray.
Equally murky is the prospect of anyone arriving at an answer that will put to rest arguments, legal or otherwise, surrounding what opponents see as Ms Yingluck’s crumbling leadership and the wobbly status of her cabinet.
Already an image has been conjured of Ms Yingluck being given a run for her money should the PDRC decide to push for a neutral prime minister to replace her, assuming the Constitutional Court’s ruling results in her being stripped of the premiership.
The government has insisted time and again that the caretaker cabinet is unassailable and can’t be killed. Bhokin Bhalakul, the Pheu Thai Party’s legal tsar, has argued vehemently that Ms Yingluck and the entire cabinet line-up are above dismissal because they are, technically, already "dead". The logic he presents is that you can’t kill a zombie. The law, according to Mr Bhokin, recognises that Ms Yingluck has discontinued functioning as a prime minister, as have the cabinet ministers, since the day the House was dissolved back in December. They are merely taking care of the country until a new government is up and running.
So if Ms Yingluck and the cabinet are no longer assuming full charge of the country, they cannot be held to account for Mr Thawil’s transfer from the National Security Council in 2011 and the case should be dropped.
And true to form, the anti-government protesters will have none of that. They maintain the prime minister and the cabinet, regardless of their caretaker status, remain answerable to the charge connected to the unjust transfer, which tramples on the constitutional protections against nepotism in the allocation of state positions.
Critics have alleged the transfer was designed to clear the path for Pol Gen Priewpan Damapong, a relative of Ms Yingluck, to rise to the top of the Royal Thai Police Office. The Supreme Administrative Court was convinced the transfer was not above board and ruled it unlawful. The ruling could be the most potent ammunition for shooting down Ms Yingluck and the cabinet.
But what if the premier refuses to budge? Will the PDRC and its allies move to have a neutral prime minister installed anyway and leave the country with two leaders? Then, what next?
Kamolwat Praprutitum is an assistant news editor, Bangkok Post.