Cobras no insurance for govt

Cobras no insurance for govt

Analysis: Use of renegade MPs to maintain quorum exposes dangers of razor-thin majority, writes Nattaya Chetchotiros

The support of renegade MPs from the opposition may help the government survive for another year but it does not guarantee the stability or unity of the coalition, an academic said.

In an exclusive interview with the Bangkok Post, Stithorn Thananithichote, director of the Office of Innovation for Democracy under the King Prajadhipok's Institute, said it is now obvious where the "cobras" or renegades from the opposition stand in wake of Wednesday's House meeting.

The opposition's motion to set up a panel to scrutinise Section 44 at the meeting was swiftly shot down.

During the meeting, 10 opposition MPs stayed behind in the chamber after other opposition MPs staged a walk-out to prevent the vote from proceeding.

However, the vote still had the required quorum of 249, with a total of 261 MPs in attendance.

It was reported that 10 MPs from the opposition block -- three from Pheu Thai, two from the Future Forward Party, four from the New Economics Party (NEP), and one from the Prachachart Party -- remained in the chamber despite the walk-out.

A motion on setting up a panel to study the impacts of orders issued under Section 44 of the interim charter was rejected with 244 votes against. Five voted in favour, with another five abstaining.

Mr Stithorn also said that even though the government managed to secure a quorum and call a new vote to prevent the formation of the panel, it shows that it was not easy for the coalition -- which has a razor-thin majority -- to maintain the quorum.

The government still has to exert itself considerably to ensure its survival during the first year, Mr Stithorn said.

While the rejected motion on setting up the panel was not a high-stakes issue for the government, other challenges, particularly the no-confidence motion, are lying in wait, he said, adding the government may have to make "even larger investments" if it wants to overcome those challenges.

Mr Stithorn said that four MPs from the NEP who helped ensure a quorum for the meeting gave the coalition "the breathing space" it needed during the House meeting.

However, the government must ensure that those MPs will not use this as leverage to bargain for cabinet seats, which could upset other coalition parties, Mr Stithorn said.

"The government can only rely on the support of these small parties to survive its first year. In its second and third years, it is likely that several more cobras will still emerge because no opposition MPs want to be left out in the cold forever. And this will enable the government to live more comfortably."

Energy Minister Sontirat Sontijirawong, who is the secretary-general of the ruling Palang Pracharath Party, admitted it was an exhausting job for the government whips to control coalition MPs to ensure a quorum, adding closer coordination among coalition parties will be required.

Pheu Thai secretary-general Anudith Nakornthap said the party will consider action against MPs who failed to toe the opposition line, adding that supporters of Pheu Thai were disappointed with the actions of those MPs.

Chief opposition whip Sutin Klungsang said it was not surprising that some opposition MPs stayed behind in the chamber after other opposition MPs walked out.

He said that of the three Pheu Thai MPs who remained in the chamber, one of them was Phonlaphum Wiphatphumprathes, a Pheu Thai MP for Bangkok, Mr Sutin said.

"We were not surprised because he owed a debt of gratitude over the clearing of a legal case. As for the other two MPs, it was quite unexpected. We will have to hear from them first," Mr Sutin said.

Mr Sutin had previously alleged that 20 opposition MPs were each offered "eight-digit-bribes'' by government lobbyists to ensure a quorum for the House meet on Wednesday.

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