Abolish senators' right to vote on PM: Piyabutr

Abolish senators' right to vote on PM: Piyabutr

Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, secretary-general of the Progressive Movement, speaks during a campaign rally for the Move Forward Party on May 10. (Photo: Piyabutr Saengkanokkul's Facebook page)
Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, secretary-general of the Progressive Movement, speaks during a campaign rally for the Move Forward Party on May 10. (Photo: Piyabutr Saengkanokkul's Facebook page)

The Move Forward Party (MFP) should propose draft legislation seeking to abolish Section 272 of the constitution which gives junta-appointed senators the power to join MPs in selecting the prime minister, Piyabutr Saengkanokkul posted on his Facebook page on Thursday night.

If its attempt is not successful, Move Forward should then consider backing down from its bid to form a government with Pita Limjaroenrat as prime minister and instead take the opposition role - and patiently wait for a successful return "tomorrow", he said.

Mr Piyabutr, secretary-general of the Progressive Movement behind the MFP, posted his message after Mr Pita's bid to become prime minister failed to get sufficient votes from members of parliament, particularly senators, in a vote on Thursday.

The Move Forward leader received 324 votes in his favour, 182 votes against and 199 abstentions in the first prime ministerial vote. The result left him 51 votes short of his target. Of the 324 votes in support, only 13 were from senators.

Mr Piyabutr said that from the speeches made by members of parliament, it was clear that a large number of senators – the upper house members appointed by the previous miltary government that seized power in a coup – opposed Mr Pita's nomination for a variety of reasons. Some of them openly disagreed with the nomination, while others opted to abstain from voting or did not attend the meeting.

He said it would be very difficult for these senators to change their minds and vote for Mr Pita in the next round.

In the speeches made by some MPs and senators prior to the voting, the constant thread was that they would not vote for Mr Pita because the Move Forward Party was persistent in its intention to amend Section 112 of the Criminal Code, the lese majeste law.

Mr Piyabutr mentioned the speakers by name. They included Withaya Kaewparadai, a United Thai Nation party-list MP, Chada Thaiseth, a Bhumjaithai Party MP for Uthai Thani, Chaichana Dejdecho, a Democrat Party MP for Nakhon Si Thammarat, and senators Khamnoon Sithisamarn, Seri Suwanphanon and Somchai Sawaengkarn.

Mr Piyabutr said Mr Withaya and Mr Chada, in particular, questioned why the MFP, despite knowing this obstacle, did not back down from its aim to amend Section 112, but instead insisted it could not do so as it had made it a policy in its campaign for votes.

"Therefore, it was clear there was no way for these MPs and senators to change their minds unless there were "new information or new signals" forcing them to do so, or when hundreds of thousand of people came out to apply pressure on them.

Without these events occurring, no matter how many rounds of voting take place, these people will never endorse Mr Pita for prime minister," he said.

The Prograssive Movement key member said Move Forward would not succeed in the vote until the senators' power to vote for prime minister under Section 272 expires in May next year. He doubted whether the MFP would be able to overcome the resistance, not to mention several rulings to be made by the Constitutional Court on cases against Mr Pita.

If Move Forward opted to invite more parties to join the eight-party alliance to increase the number of votes in support, Mr Piyabutr said he doubted any parties would cooperate since the Bhumjaithai, Democrat and Chartthaipattana parties had clearly stated they would not work with any party seeking to amend Section 112.

Mr Piyabutr said it would also not be possible for the MFP to back down and allow the Pheu Thai Party to take the prime minister's post while it is still in the eight-party alliance. He doubted whether the senators would change their mindes because they wanted to see Move Forward completely excluded.

The Progressive Movement secretary-general said he talked to Parit Wacharasindhu, a Move Forward party list MP, and agreed with the latter's opinion.

In Mr Parit's opinion, Move Forward, with its 151 MPs, should propose a draft bill seeking to abolish Section 272 of the constitution, to rid the senators of the power to vote for the prime minister.

The draft bill should be submitted for deliberation by parliament as soon as possible. By doing this, he believed the process to abolish Section 272 could be completed in four weeks, Mr Piyabutr said.

"If the bill is rejected by parliament, the Move Forward Party could tell the people that it had tried to the best of its ability but faced tough obstacles. It would then be time for the party to move out.

"We would then be able to stand with heads high and be proud of being a 'black sheep' in Thai politics. We would continue to fight more strongly amid conflicts. If the 14 million votes today are not enough, we must make it to 20 - 25 million votes tomorrow," Mr Piyabutr said.

Mr Piyabutr, a law expert, was banned from politics when the Future Forward Party was dissolved by the Constitutional Court ruling on Feb 21, 2020 for violating the election law on donations to political parties. Future Forward was relaunched as Move Forward, with Mr Pita as the leader.   

The MFP won the most seats in the May 14 general election. Mr Pita, 42, was the sole contender to be Thailand's 30th prime mnister but failed to secure enough parliamentary votes on Thursday.

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