Deputy Prime Minister and Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) leader Prawit Wongsuwon sparked debate over whether the government should call an early House dissolution when he floated the idea that it would be a good time to go the polls after the Apec 2022 summit.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, in recent days, would neither confirm nor deny the possibility, in contrast to his previous denials. The premier had indicated his intention to stay in office until his tenure ends in March next year.
The Bangkok Post asked politicians from both camps, political analysts and the civil sector to weigh in on the issue.
Govt: Apec must come first
Paiboon Nititawan, deputy leader of the ruling PPRP, ruled out the possibility of a pre-Apec House dissolution, saying the summit is an important event which the government intends to see through.
Paiboon: 'No pre-Apec dissolution'
"Dissolving the House is the prime minister's decision. I'd rather not say what [disruptive] event could lead to it. But I can firmly say there will be no dissolution before the summit. So talks about an early dissolution in May or in August are just rumour."
Mr Paiboon also said the government may decide to stay on until its term ends and brushed aside concerns about the government's slim majority which makes it vulnerable in no-confidence debates should some MPs decide to switch allegiance.
He said only "no-confidence" votes are counted, and the opposition must gather more than 237 votes to topple the government. The opposition, he says, has 208 votes now.
Sawit: 'Voice of the people matters'
"The majority of the MPs from both sides including me want to see the House complete its term with the general election held in May next year. But it depends on the situation," he said.
A source in the ruling PPRP said a premature House dissolution will throw efforts to solve various problems into disarray especially if the government has to borrow more to finance economic schemes.
According to the source, discord in some small coalition parties is under control and the government is confident it can muster enough votes to defeat the opposition in any future no-confidence votes.
As for the Apec summit, the source said that it would not be appropriate for a caretaker government to host the event as it could send out the wrong signal and damage confidence among attending heads of state from around the region.
Opposition: Apec is no excuse
The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit is no excuse for the government to cling onto power and push back a House dissolution if one is needed, say members of the opposition bloc.
Pichai: 'Small parties the key'
Siripan: Predicts PM will survive discord
They disagree with Gen Prawit that the most appropriate time for the House dissolution is after the government has hosted the Apec meeting.
According to Gen Prawit, the government should be free of obligations after the Apec meeting and if a House dissolution is to take place, that would be a good time.
Suthin Klungsang, chief opposition whip and deputy leader of the Pheu Thai Party, said the Apec summit should not be a factor.
"Under the parliamentary system, the functioning of the government is usually a key factor and if the government and the MPs are at loggerheads, it is best to seek a fresh mandate," he said.
He said the government's first test is likely to come soon after parliament convenes on May 22 for a new session, pointing to two crucial events: a planned no-confidence motion by the opposition, and deliberation of the Budget Bill for the 2023 fiscal year.
Suntree: 'Full term no help to anyone'
Rangsiman: 'Govt can still get its wish'
Suthin: Leading calls for an early poll
"When parliament opens, we'll see if they can get along. If they can't, a House dissolution should be called to solve the problem. They can't drag it out until after the Apec meeting. It's the people and the nation who stand to lose," he said.
Small coalition parties have some 30 MP seats between them and are keen to play a larger role.
However, if the government and lawmakers can put aside their differences, there might be no grounds for a House dissolution after the Apec meeting, in which case the MPs can stay on until their term ends in March, he said.
According to Mr Suthin, the opposition does not need to lure micro parties away from the government as they will switch camps anyway if their differences cannot be reconciled.
Rangsiman Rome, a Move Forward Party list-MP and the party's deputy secretary-general, said he saw Gen Prawit's remark as a sign that the government is uncertain of its position and unsure if it has the votes it needs to survive its next grilling.
"The government has lost concentration and spent energy on mending fences and creating an impression of coalition unity when it should have focused on addressing pressing issues such as the impacts of the Ukraine-Russia crisis," he said.
Mr Rangsiman said the government should dissolve the House and seek a fresh mandate if it cannot muster enough support from coalition members, adding that it could still fulfil its wish to host Apec if it is re-elected at the next polls.
Scholars cynical over censure
Gen Prayut will have to fight off two crucial challenges before he gets to host the Apec summit in November and decides whether to complete his term or dissolve the House, according to a number of analysts.
Standing between Gen Prayut and his desire to lead the summit are the planned no-confidence debate and the eight-year limit on his term.
Siripan Nogsuan Sawasdee, a political science lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, however, said she believes the premier will survive the debate narrowly and get a favourable ruling on his term.
Wants to stay: Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha makes the 'I love you' sign as he leaves the Rajpruek Club on Thursday.
Critics insist Gen Prayut's premiership should end in August this year while a legal team from the House of Representatives claimed that he is entitled to serve as premier until 2027. The issue is likely to be referred to the Constitutional Court for a ruling.
Ms Siripan said a ruling in Gen Prayut's favour may stir a protest from his critics but if they cannot maintain any momentum, he will likely serve until the summit and his official term ends in March next year.
However, she expects a House dissolution to allow MPs to defect to other parties. In the event, election candidates must be members of parties for at least 30 days, instead of 90 days, to be eligible to contest the polls.
"I don't think Gen Prayut can make a comeback after the next elections. While the PPRP backs him as a prime ministerial candidate, he won't be the only one, but one of three," she said.
Despite that, Gen Prayut is the PPRP's only candidate in the March 2019 general election.
Pichai Rattanadilok Na Phuket, political science lecturer at the National Institute of Development Administration, said Gen Prayut's survival in the debate depends on small coalition partners.
If the prime minister manages to make it through, Mr Pichai believes there is nothing to stop Gen Prayut from hosting the Apec meeting.
With about three months to go before the premiership ends, the analyst said it does not matter if the prime minister dissolves the House or stays on. Moreover, he does not think the move will give the coalition parties an upper hand in the polls.
"The PPRP's popularity is waning and it's anybody's guess how many seats it can retain in the next election. The Democrat Party will win fewer seats and may not be able to keep some seats in the South. As for micro parties, they don't stand a chance under the new election system," he said.
The Pheu Thai Party will be the only party at an advantage under the two-ballot system while the Move Forward Party will get around 50 seats, he said, while stressing that his analysis is based on the current situation.
Suntree Hutthee Sengking, secretary-general of the Coordinating Committee of Thai NGOs, said the public has nothing to gain from the House dissolution or the government staying on to complete its term.
She said talks about the issue are simply to ease pressure and maintain government stability and that she expects the opposition to land a knock-out punch in the censure debate.
She also criticised the government for its efforts to revive an economy hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, saying the measures are mostly short-term without a far-sighted plan to rehabilitate the economy.
Sawit Kaewwan, president of the Thai Labour Solidarity Committee, said the government should pay heed to the people's needs and address their problems if it wishes to stay on.
"There's no point in staying on if it can't work for the people's interest," he said.