Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Phuea Thai Expects to Topple Government With Censure Debate

The lack of a real leader caused the Phuea Thai Party to send conflicting signals regarding to the charter amendments, and thus throwing the party into disarray.

Chaloem Yubamrung, the chairman of Phuea Thai MPs, announced that the party would boycott the efforts of the tripartite whips--the coalition, opposition and Senate whips--to amend the Constitution. Chaloem claimed that the Democrat Party was not sincere in pushing for charter amendments but the coalition leader simply used the charter amendments as a pretext to try to cling on to power as long as possible.

He said the Phuea Thai has earlier resolved to oppose the six amendments as proposed by the reconciliation committee on political reform and constitutional amendments and the party is also opposed to the national referendum. He said he would have the Phuea Thai whips inform the tripartite whip meeting, held recently, that the Phuea Thai would pull out from the amendment process.

But what happened puzzled everybody because Phuea Thai chief whip Witthaya Buranasiri and other Phuea Thai representatives continued to participate in the tripartite meeting. They also expressed their belief that the tripartite whips' efforts to amend the charter were really aimed at bringing about reconciliation, not for buying time.

Six Charter Amendments
Witthaya said Chaloem made the announcement because he simply wanted to urge the government to have sincerity toward charter amendments. Witthaya said the opposition did not boycott the charter amendments as most people understood. So, Chaloem was humiliated by his own party members because the Phuea Thai whips still participated in the tripartite efforts to amend the charter.

This was not the first time that Phuea Thai leading members sent out conflicting messages but they did it several times already because they tried to steal the show to exert their leadership in the party when there has been no real leader. What happened caused the Phuea Thai members to feel uneasy because they analyzed that the party had fallen into the charter amendment trap of the government. These dissatisfied members saw that the Phuea Thai whips' decision to join the amendment process was tantamount to extending the government's term.

They know that the Democrat is trying to delay the charter amendments as long as possible by using the national referendum as a tool. Prime Minister Aphisit Wetchachiwa and the coalition whips said the amendments would take about nine months or might be done in about the middle of next year. Then, the prime minister would consider whether the House should be dissolved and new election held or not.

Now, the Phuea Thai's goal is to have the 2007 Constitution annulled at all costs as the party sees that this version of the charter was enacted to eliminate the Thaksin regime following the 2006 coup.

The easiest way to annul the 2007 charter, which will make the party look best and allow it to provide the best explanation to the public, is to call for the reinstatement of the 1997 Constitution. Using this strategy, the Phuea Thai will have a legitimacy to campaign to change the supreme law of the country, which is a sensitive issue that could lead to opposition from the members of the society.

But the problem for the Phuea Thai is that the government is now in control of the charter amendment game. And if the Phuea Thai abruptly pulls out from the amendment process, former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and the party will immediately be attacked that they are not sincere to support the efforts to bring about reconciliation. They will be criticized that way because the amendment process has progressed this far not because of the government or senators.

Six-Point Charter
Earlier political pressure related to charter amendments led to the formation of the reconciliation committee for political reform and constitutional amendments. The panel has studied the political problems and concluded that the Constitution should be amended in six points as following:

1. To change the way how MPs are elected by amending Article 93 to Article 98.

2. To change the way how to elect senators by amending Article 111 to Article 121.

3. To increase the government's power in determining what kind of foreign contracts that need to seek parliamentary approval before signing. This point need to be changed by amending Article 190.

4. To change penalties against political parties and lift political ban against the party leader and executives by amending Article 237.

5. To amend Article 265 to allow MPs to become political officials.

6. To amend Article 266 (1) to allow MPs and senators to initiate how to solve the people's problems.

Reconciliation Trap
However, the process has gone this far because of an agreement of all sides concerned to tackle the political crisis following the Songkran riots. The political violence prompted the government, the opposition and senators to jointly form the reconciliation committee. The committee spent two months to study the political problems and resolved to amend the charter in six points. The proposals of the reconciliation panel led to the formation of the tripartite whips to push for the six charter amendments.

And the Phuea Thai has joined every step of the process. Moreover, the Phuea Thai whips managed to raise their voice to pressure the government to support several issues related to the six amendments. And it has not been clear yet that the government is not sincere towards charter amendments as alleged.

In particular, Senator Direk Thuengfang, chairman of the reconciliation panel who is regarded as an impartial person, is still among the Senate whips who take part in the tripartite efforts to amend the charter. And all sides in the tripartite whips agreed to have a public referendum held on the charter amendments. As a result, the Phuea Thai has been caught in the reconciliation trap.

So, if it makes an about-face to abandon the amendment process, its image will be affected. As a result, it will have to a make u-turn to announce that it has not abandoned the reconciliation process as declared by Chaloem.

As we have pointed out, the six charter amendments are trivial for the Phuea Thai because its main goal is to kill the entire charter. Since it is forced to join the game in which it is on the disadvantage, the Phuea Thai must learn to make use of the tiny game to gain advantage in the main game - seeking to annul the 2007 charter.

Supporting Reconciliation
The Phuea Thai remains in the tiny game to retain its image as supporting reconciliation. At the same time, it also want to take advantage of the process to push for the point of the amendment it wants most--to annul the penalties of party dissolution and five-year political ban against all party executives if a party executive violates the election law.

For the main game's goal, the Phuea Thai wants to use the space provided by the tripartite whips to push for the annulment of the 2007 charter. It is seeking to annul the 2007 charter by announcing its stand against holding a public referendum on the six amendments. It claimed that since the government would waste up to 2 billion for holding the referendum, the referendum should be held on the main principle as to whether the people want the 1997 or 2007 versions of the charter.

Doing so the party will manage to keep its campaign "to bring back the 1997 charter" alive and the party hopes to use this campaign theme in the next election.

And the party will pressure Aphisit to keep his promise that once the six amendments are done, he will immediately return the ruling mandate to the people. So, the Phuea Thai will use the charter amendment game to besiege the government to leave the office as soon as possible.

Government's Problems
The Phuea Thai realizes that the longer the government stays in office, the more stability it will have and the more difficult the Phuea Thai will be able to topple the coalition or win the next elections. But if the House is dissolved soon, the Phuea Thai will have a chance to win the next polls.

The Phuea Thai expects that the government's problems will turn into a crisis that topples the coalition in 2010. The problems will stem from the disputes over the shares in the budget cake under the Strengthening Thailand stimulus package and corruption in the projects under the package, which have been exposed on the daily basis now.

And Phuea Thai plans to hold a no-confidence debate against the government in the next parliamentary session or no later than May. When the Phuea Thai exposes alleged corruption in the Strengthening Thailand projects, the party hopes that the government will run out of legitimacy to remain in office. By that time, the charter amendments will have already been done.

Attacks Against Government
By the time, the Phuea Thai may have already used the referendum campaign to arouse the people to fully want the reinstatement of 1997 charter. By that time, the Phuea Thai will step up attacks against the government and make use of internal rifts among the coalition partners together with Thaksin's popularity, which is still strong. Moreover, the party has begun pulling itself together after former Prime Minister Chawalit Yongchaiyut joined the party to unite the Phuea Thai members.

All of these factors will give the Phuea Thai not only a chance to win the next election, but also an opportunity to win its long-term game to annul the 2007 charter and dissolve the current independent organizations. It will be able to achieve those goals by drafting the red-shirt version of the charter and grant amnesty to the big boss and his cronies so that they could return to power again.

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