Compromise is in order

Compromise is in order

ABOUT POLITICS: MFP's hardline stance on key issues threatens to leave it isolated at a time when it needs all the friends it can get v Phumtham Wechayachai's comments on who gets House speaker role haven't gone down well with Pheu Thai colleagues

Paetongtarn: Signals Section 112 intentions
Paetongtarn: Signals Section 112 intentions

With every passing day, the Move Forward Party's (MFP) prospects of successfully forming a coalition government appear to slip further away despite its best efforts to keep calm, according to observers.

They agree that even if an MFP-led coalition takes power, it could easily fall apart on account of potentially disastrous internal strife.

An early sign of such strife involving the MFP and the Pheu Thai Party, the two largest likely coalition partners, is already being played out for all to see.

In a relationship where the MFP needs Pheu Thai more than the other way around, the "marriage of convenience" is doomed to failure, according to some observers.

For starters, while the MFP came away from the election as the biggest party, it is in the minority in terms of what many describe as its hardline political ideology, which the party intends to implement as government policies.

Such a stance is exemplified by controversial and sensitive issues which the MFP has campaigned hard to pursue. At the very top of its agenda is the proposed amendment to Section 112 of the Criminal Code, or the lese majeste law, which is winning the MFP more foes than friends.

The party has had to fend off criticism from its hard-core supporters who chastised the MFP for the "disgrace" it brought on itself by backtracking on abolishing Section 112 altogether.

When it comes to amending the section, Pheu Thai has indicated it far prefers to keep sitting on the fence for as long as possible and maintains it is absolutely opposed to repealing Section 112.

Paetongtarn "Ung Ing" Shinawatra, head of the so-called Pheu Thai Family and the party's No.1 prime ministerial candidate, has said Pheu Thai would consider taking up Section 112 for debate in parliament if and when legislation governing an amendment of the law is put forth. But that is where the party has signalled it will only go regarding cooperation in the matter.

The MFP's stance on the Section 112 debate has isolated, if not ostracised, the party and being isolated at this crucial juncture is not at all helpful, according to observers.

Political events are approaching, which will break or make the MFP as a ruling party. Tentatively, parliament will convene a meeting a day after it reopens following the election to elect a new House speaker on July 6.

The House speaker election will decide whether the MFP will have a shot at leading the next administration, the observers said.

Both the MFP and Pheu Thai are determined to claim the legislative branch's top post. The MFP views it as a vital conduit for listing the laws it wishes to push onto the parliamentary agenda, while Pheu Thai argues that as the second-largest coalition partner, with only 10 seats less than the MFP, it deserves the post as much as the MFP.

Several past House speakers have not come from the largest party. After the 2019 election, Democrat Party patriarch and former premier Chuan Leekpai was chosen as House speaker, who also doubles as parliament president, even though the Democrats were the fourth-largest party.

It is customary after parties strike a deal with potential coalition partners to form a government, to enter into a gentleman's agreement to vote for a House speaker from within their own ranks. That is, assuming no two potential coalition partners are competing for the post.

This time around, the MFP and Pheu Thai are on a collision course, which opens the way for a free vote to elect the new House speaker. If that is the case, there will be no "customary" voting pattern with the MFP and Pheu Thai engaging in an all-out battle for the position.

That said, it is highly likely Pheu Thai's candidate will garner more support, even from the opposition bloc, than the MFP's.

Parties, including those from the current government bloc led by the Palang Pracharath Party, find more common ground with Pheu Thai than they do with MFP, particularly over Section 112.

Not only do these parties not see repealing or even amending Section 112 as a priority, but they also believe it could provide a catalyst for mass protests, imperilling the life of a government.

The observers feel that if Pheu Thai manages to land the speaker's post, it could shatter what's left of its friendly terms with the MFP, which could endanger the latter's prospect of securing Pheu Thai's support for Pita Limjaroenrat, the MFP leader, becoming premier.

The election of the prime minister in parliament has been brought forward after the poll agency certified all 500 MPs ahead of schedule. Without Pheu Thai's 141 MPs to back his bid, Mr Pita stands no chance of beating the odds to become the country's next leader.

A bit of give and take

Political parties are gearing up for their first crucial vote now that the Election Commission (EC) has endorsed all 500 newly-elected MPs.

Phumtham: Clarifies speaker remarks

Under Section 121 of the constitution, the first parliamentary session must be convened within 15 days from the day the EC endorses at least 95% of all MPs-elect.

Their first task following the official opening is to choose among themselves the House speaker and two deputies. It is widely speculated that their selection will take place within 10 days of the new parliamentary session convening.

The Move Forward Party (MFP) and the Pheu Thai Party, vying for the speaker post, are still negotiating over who should get to head the legislative branch.

According to observers, it is no surprise that both feel they have the right to claim the role because they are not very far apart in terms of House seats won in the May 14 election.

The MFP, which won 151 seats, insists that as the election winner, it is traditionally entitled to the post. With several key pieces of legislation the MFP is obligated to push in parliament, the party feels the need to secure the gavel.

As for Pheu Thai, which secured 141 seats, the party argues that since the gap in the number of seats won by the two parties is small -- only 10 seats -- the House speaker post should belong to it.

Moreover, Pheu Thai has many candidates well-versed in laws and parliamentary matters, compared to the "novices" within the MFP's ranks.

The dispute between the two parties faded from media focus after they decided to settle it through dialogue. However, the issue surfaced again early this week when Pheu Thai deputy leader Phumtham Wechayachai was quoted as saying his party had agreed to hand the position to the MFP in exchange for two Pheu Thai deputy House speakers.

While Mr Phumtham's remarks drew praise from some academics and thanks from MFP secretary-general Chaithawat Tulathon for respecting the voice of the people who voted for the two parties, some Pheu Thai MPs were angry and did not hide their feelings.

They insisted Mr Phumtham should have discussed and settled the issue within the party first.

Pheu Thai list-MP Adisorn Piangket believed the party was making too many concessions despite the fact that the MFP won only 151 seats, way below a majority in the 500-seat chamber.

Earlier, the veteran politician suggested that if the two parties were unable to reach an agreement over the issue, the matter should be decided by a free vote in parliament.

"We've agreed to let the MFP take the prime minister post, and why do we have to bow to their demand for the House speakership? I wouldn't utter a word if the MFP had a landslide win. They won only 151 seats," said Mr Adisorn.

According to him, Pheu Thai has tried its best to avoid conflicts with the MFP to keep the bloc intact and prevent the other camp from forming a rival coalition with Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) leader Prawit Wongsuwon as prime minister.

Mr Adisorn said the prospect of a PPRP-led minority government, with 188 seats from the former government coalition, could never be ruled out as long as the Senate is allowed to co-select the prime minister.

"We've tried not to stir up conflicts because we're concerned about a rival coalition. The coalition government may nominate Gen Prawit as the prime minister, and it is possible he gets support from the Senate and defeats the MFP leader," he said.

However, Mr Phumtham has clarified that he did not mean to say the party was giving up on the House speaker post. As a matter of fact, he was stating the principle that the position should go to the party which won the most votes in the general election.

A Pheu Thai source told the Bangkok Post that the party shows signs of backing down in its fight for the chief legislative post because key figures in Pheu Thai and the MFP can't see how MFP leader Pita Limjaroenrat can overcome obstacles he faces in getting elected as prime minister.

The MFP-led coalition needs support from MPs and senators in order to secure 376 votes in parliament to back Mr Pita's bid. Given his questionable qualifications, it will be an uphill task to convince the MPs and senators to vote for him.

"The MFP will badly need the House speaker post to compensate for missing out on the PM role. Pheu Thai understands this and will let the MFP have it [the House speaker post]," said the source.

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