Proposal to cure Thai political crisis faces rejection

By Arnaud Dubus, Saturday, May 03, 2014

Former PM's suggestion that would see government resign and elections postponed until year-end highlights how out of touch Thailand's long-time political giant is from country’s current political crisis

Former PM's suggestion that would see government resign and elections postponed until year-end highlights how out of touch Thailand's long-time political giant is from country’s current political crisis

BANGKOK - A Thai opposition proposal that would see the government resign and elections postponed until year-end has highlighted how out of touch Thailand's long-time political giant is from the country’s current crisis.

Opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva - who has led the opposition Democrat Party for nine years - detailed in a news conference Saturday ten points aimed at ending the country's political paralysis, only to have them immediately rejected by major players on both sides.

In the hours following the speech, government minister Varathep Ratanakorn told reporters that any resignation followed by a proposed appointment of a "neutral prime minister" and an interim government controlled by the Thai Senate was not possible under existing laws.

Having the Senate appoint an interim government would be tantamount to "robbing the people of their power," wrote Independent legal academic Verapat Pariyawong in the Bangkok Post.

Meanwhile, the anti-government People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), which has taken to Bangkok streets for six months to call for Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's resignation, rejected the plan outright.

Spokesman Akanat Promphan said the plan was purely "politician's talk," and that the movement will forge ahead with its own objective of setting up a "people's government and council." PDRC leader Suthep Thaugsuban, formerly a close ally of Abhisit in the opposition Democrats, has said he was not even interested in speaking to his former boss.

Oxford University educated Abhisit, prime minister from 2008 to 2011, took the helm of Thailand’s oldest political party in 2005 after almost a decade of election defeat. A conservative party, traditionally allied with the aristocrats, it became marginalized in 2001 by the phenomenal political success of billionaire turned politician Thaksin Shinawatra – Yingluck’s elder brother.

In the current crisis, the party has tried to position itself as the defender of the status quo, but it has been pushed from the debate by former deputy leader Thaugsuban’s massive anti-government movement, in the process appearing more and more of a dinosaur.

Analysts have written recently of the “growing irrelevance” of the Democrats.

In his ten-point blueprint, Abhisit asked that elections - announced this week for July 20 - be postponed until year-end. He also expressed that Premier Yingluck and her government resign to give way to a new interim government appointed by the Senate and led by a "neutral Prime Minister." This government, he said, will "prepare in 30 days a framework for reforms" with the PDRC and a group of academics and civil society representatives operating under the banner: "Reform Now Network."

The proposed reforms will then be submitted to a referendum, a process which would take - as Abhisit proudly declared - "three months."

If these reforms are then approved, elections will take place and the elected government will implement the reforms in the following 12 months.

Then... another set of elections will be held.

While detailing his proposals, Abhisit promised: "No side will get 100 percent of what I have proposed, but members of the ruling party will be able to run in the polls over the next 5-6 months and the PDRC gets a nonpartisan government and a reform council as well as an assurance the reforms will not be impeded".

Few were impressed.

"If there was hope that Abhisit was a moderate who can join moderates from the other side in bridging the divide, these proposals seem to put this hope firmly to rest," Michael H. Nelson, a sociologist and analyst on Thai politics, wrote on his Facebook page.

"He [has] assumed the position of the PDRC's somewhat more civilized face in trying to push Suthep's agenda, [but] with no concern for the people and neither for constitutional rule."

Legal expert Pariyawong described any suggestion that the PDRC and Reform Now write reforms as "problematic," as neither group was democratically elected or supported by the constitution.

The PDRC has announced a "final battle" demonstration May 14 to "take back sovereign power," timed to coincide with two decisions which could lead to the demotion of Yingluck and her government.

On May 14 the Constitutional court is expected to rule on a case filed against Yingluck in relation to her unlawful transfer of a high ranking civil servant to a powerless position. If the court rules against her, she will be immediately demoted.

Yingluck is also facing a "dereliction of duty" case filed with the Anti-Corruption Commission, an independent agency created by the Thai Constitution. The case is related to a rice-subsidies scheme criticized for opening the door to massive corruption, which Yingluck is accused of doing nothing to stop. The scheme has caused massive financial losses to the country.

The Commission must take a decision to indict her or not before the end of the month. If she is indicted, she will be suspended from her position and an impeachment process will start in front of the Senate, which is dominated by Abhisit's Democrat opposition.

Yingluck has faced a wave of opposition protests since her government pushed through an amnesty in 2013 that would have lifted a 2008 corruption conviction against Thaksin, a divisive figure in Thai Politics who lead the country from 2001 to 2006 when he was overthrown in a coup. He is currently living in exile, mostly in Dubai. Confronted by massive demonstrations, the government withdrew the bill, but the opposition has alleged corruption by the government and Shinawatra family.

Yingluck dissolved parliament December 9 and called February 2 elections, which were disrupted by the anti-government PDRC who want an unelected "people's council" to run Thailand until the political system is reformed.

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