Premier cornered again as court hands down verdict
Thaksin Shinawatra can really get a taste of his own medicine now. He thought he had regained the upper hand following Friday's royal endorsement of the October 15 election date. But his triumph was short-lived - a mere four days.
Yesterday he looked demoralised upon learning that the Criminal Court had handed down a verdict that effectively booted Vasana Puemlarp, Prinya Nakchudtree and Virachai Naewboonnien off the Election Commission (EC). With the recalcitrant three remaining members not allowed to post bail for their crime "against democracy", they are automatically ineligible to hold the prestigious public office any longer.
At yesterday's Cabinet meeting, Pornthip Jala, secretary-general of the Council of State, advised ministers that the election commissioners were de-facto disqualified from performing their duties any further. With this interpretation from the country's top legal expert, Thaksin could only bite the bullet. He signalled that a process to nominate new election commissioners should begin.
Thaksin has lost his allies at the EC. His key fortress has been destroyed. Going into the October 15 poll, the Thai Rak Thai Party will not have "home-field advantage" as in previous elections. The new Election Commission could make trouble for Thai Rak Thai by giving some of its candidates red cards - something that would never happen if the Vasana-led EC were still allowed to function.
There was no time, nor was there any contingency plan on the part of the Thai Rak Thai camp to disrupt the scene following the court's landmark ruling. Disturbances would definitely have broken out, which would have put off the election indefinitely, had the royal decree not come down last Friday.
The royal decree was issued with perfect timing.
Thaksin was led into a trap of his own making. He had been fighting desperately for the election, going so far as to assure US President George W Bush that the October 15 poll would take place.
When the election was confirmed on Friday, most Thais were stunned. For they all believed the royal decree would only be approved after the three remaining members of the Election Commission were kicked out.
Thaksin was overjoyed, as the royal decree gave him plenty of room to dance out of the corner he had found himself in. The Thai Rak Thai camp celebrated. Thaksin reverted to his mode of talking business. He would lead Thai Rak Thai to another election victory. The Supreme Court, he suggested, should nominate two candidates to fill the vacancies at the Election Commission so the commissioners could carry out the royal endorsed ballot election.
But the advantage Thaksin appeared to briefly enjoyed quickly went into reverse. The court's landmark ruling yesterday has undermined the PM's political support. The royal decree has also set a specific timeframe for the election that he cannot disobey. Any attempts at a military coup have been neutralised.
Thaksin has been holding the country hostage since he dissolved Parliament in February. Now he is "hostage" to a judiciary yet to fall under his influence.
The next scenario is for the Senate to ask the Supreme Court to nominate candidates to fill up the bench at the EC. The Supreme Court already has 10 candidates on its list, which will be passed to the Senate to appoint five commissioners. The new election commissioners should assume their jobs within a month, which would give them time to organise the new poll.
Other political landmines lie along the way.
A case against Thaksin over a business conflict with his former partner at IBC, a cable television company, could be decided in September. The Constitution Court could find enough grounds to dissolve the Thai Rak Thai, Democrat and three small parties for violating the electoral laws after the October 15 poll. If the Constitution Court disbands the big parties, their executives would be barred from politics.
Thai Rak Thai may win a narrow margin in the October 15 election, forcing it to form a coalition government. Thaksin, if he is still around and survives the judicial ordeals, would be subject to more checks and balances.
The political end game is not too far away.