King's speech guides Thailand towards uncharted territory
One hard part is over. It took the unprecedented expression of frustration from a much-revered monarch, in what is supposed to be his most auspicious year, for a divided nation to reluctantly accept two things.
First, the April 2 general election produced nothing but a freak House of Representatives, and second, Thais should try digging themselves out of their precarious political hole with as little help from their King as possible.
The "Tale of Three Branches" has come to its climax. With the legislature and government crippled by a snowballing crisis, the judiciary, not exactly healthy but less injured, has been instructed by His Majesty the King to find the cure. His criticism of Administrative Court judges may have made them squirm, but reading between the lines nobody was spared. After his speech on Tuesday, the anti-Thaksin alliance is backing down from its call for a royally appointed prime minister, while the caretaker government leaders would be insane if they tried to go ahead with convening the House.
But here comes another precarious challenge - charting the political roadmap. With the presidents of the Supreme, Administrative and Constitution courts scrambling for possible solutions and planning a summit tomorrow, speculation has been rife. It is commonly believed that the April 2 poll will most likely be nullified, but what will happen after that is much harder to foresee. Some pundits predict another election within three months. Others anticipate the financially safer but constitutionally more controversial option of making do with a one-chamber Parliament temporarily.
If the courts agree to nullify the April 2 election, and favour a new election, the timing of the new poll will be crucial. The sooner the new election is held, the more advantage the Thai Rak Thai Party and its embattled leader Thaksin Shinawatra will have. But if the "break" extends to three months or longer, it will unlock a major constitutional chain allowing many disgruntled Thai Rak Thai members to defect, a scenario which will seriously hamper Thaksin's hope for a quick return.
Kanin Boonsuwan, a constitutional expert, suggested yesterday that the embattled Election Commission (EC) should quickly nullify the April 2 and related polls in the wake of HM the King's statement on Tuesday. He said it is best for the EC to ask the Administrative Court to cancel the Royal Decree on the April 2 general elections before civic bodies or other parties petition the court to make a ruling.
"If the EC acted first, it could avoid further embarrassment, as its image is already tainted by several flaws in overseeing the recent elections," he said. The expert advocated a 90-120 day break before the new election so that all political parties, including former opposition and new parties, have sufficient time to prepare for a fair and orderly race.
"The next round of polls should take place sometime in late July or August. If we postponed the polls by, say, 90, 100 or 110 days, then everyone interested in standing for election will have a chance," he said. This will effectively remove the 90-day lock on all MP candidates, which requires them to be members of a party for 90 days before an election.
Dissidents in the Thai Rak Thai or other parties will be able to leave or set up new parties to contest the general election.
"Key members of the anti-Thaksin People's Alliance for Democracy could also form their own parties so that there is no more street politics," Kanin said. This roadmap will leave the months of May and June free of political tension so that the nation can properly celebrate HM the King's 60 years on the throne.
In Kanin's opinion, any efforts to amend the Constitution should be suspended until the country has a proper Parliament.
But this roadmap means another election would be required soon after the new Parliament is set up and finishes constitutional reform. This has led to calls for another cost-effective option of making the newly elected Senate function solely in a one-chamber Parliament.
How this latter option can be achieved without breaching the Constitution remains to be seen. But as several analysts believe, with the current crisis being caused by so many bent rules, a straightforward cure may not be possible.
What about political reform, then? Perhaps the country has to worry about that later, as the most important matter now is to get the key political mechanisms like Parliament and government back on track as soon as possible.