THE MYSTERY OF THAI POLITICS
The PPP is not a sure bet to form a government, and Chart Thai leader Banharn Silpa-archa may yet become PM for a second time
Story by SURASAK TUMCHAROEN
Understanding Thai politics is not easy. In most countries, the party which wins the most votes in an election gets the chance to form the next government. But in Thailand, sometimes the second biggest party gets the chance to govern if the largest party fails to form a coalition.
In Thai politics, even a splinter party with only a few dozen MPs at its command can sometimes steal the show.
There have been times when the prime minister has not been the leader of a big party and only rose to power on a stop-gap basis.
Given the obstacles and snags over its sustained bid to set up a coalition government with several smaller parties, the People Power party (PPP), which won 233 MP seats in last month's election, is still not a sure bet to lead the next government for the time being.
Neither is the Democrat party, which won 160-plus seats, as the small parties had earlier agreed to join a PPP-led coalition.
For whatever perceivable reasons, the possibility that the PPP might fail to set up a coalition of its own cannot be entirely ruled out.
The Election Commission (EC) has handed out yellow and red cards for electoral fraud against a dozen of the PPP's winning candidates so far, with more likely to follow.
The PPP, led by maverick ex-deputy prime minister Samak Sundaravej, faces the possibility of being dissolved in the foreseeable future if the Supreme Court finds it guilty of charges that it acted as a nominee for deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
In addition, one of Mr Thaksin's former executives, Yongyuth Tiyapairat, has been implicated in vote buying for which he might possibly be given a red card.
Despite the PPP being preoccupied with its many legal battles, the Democrat party has not taken advantage and is not making any effort to form a coalition of its own.
With the exception of the Chart Thai party, the leadership of each of the smaller parties _ Puea Pandin, Ruam Jai Thai Chart Pattana, Matchimathipataya and Pracharaj _ quickly jumped on the PPP bandwagon.
The PPP has promised to overturn the ban on political activities presently imposed on a total of 111 ex-Thai Rak Thai party (TRT) executives in the foreseeable future.
The 111 politicians banned from playing any active political roles for five years include some of the leading figures of those splinter parties, such as Suchart Tancharoen and Phinij Jarusombat, both quietly acting as faction heads of the Puea Pandin party, as well as Suwat Liptapanlop and Somkid Jatusripitak, who both quietly support the Ruam Jai Thai Chart Pattana party.
Under such circumstances, and against all odds, is the possibility that the Chart Thai party may become the core of a coalition government.
Chart Thai leader Banharn Silpa-archa may possibly become prime minister for a second time and adopt the PPP as well as all the other splinter parties as his coalition partners, leaving the Democrats alone in opposition.
The essential difference between Mr Banharn in 1995, when he was prime minister, and Mr Banharn today is that he had more than 90 MPs at his command back then, compared with only 30-plus MPs now.
Article 126 of the 2007 constitution stipulates that the naming of a prime minister may be done in a secret fashion among MPs.
Not only the top leader of the biggest or second-biggest party, but any elected MP can be named as the head of government. In secret voting at parliament, MPs are free to pick any of their colleagues as prime minister, apart from their respective party leaders, according to the present charter.
Mr Banharn, who earlier vowed not to compete against Mr Samak or any others in a bid to set up a post-election government, has recently become the hot candidate for the top job of heading a coalition government consisting of the PPP and all the other smaller parties, including his own.
However, his dream of returning to power could possibly turn into a nightmare if the Chart Thai party is dissolved for similar electoral fraud charges as those the PPP faces, involving party executives who allegedly bought votes and have been given red cards.
Or will history repeat itself in favour of the Chart Thai leader? The late M.R. Kukrit Pramoj became prime minister with only 18 MPs at his command more than three decades ago.
In 1975 M.R. Kukrit, who led the Social Action party (SAP) with 18 MPs, was voted prime minister by 135 MPs out of a total of 269, thanks partly to the leadership of bigger parties who had failed to come to terms with each other. The naming of the SAP leader as prime minister was endorsed by the MPs of the Social Dharma party, the Chart Thai party, the Socialist party, the Social Alliance party, the New Force party and several splinter parties, as well as his own MPs.
M.R. Kukrit would not have been named prime minister had the leader of the Social Dharma party, Thavit Klinprathum, been elected an MP that year. With 45 MPs at his command, the late Thavit might have been considered ahead of M.R. Kukrit for the top job.
Before the surprise rise of M.R. Kukrit, Democrat party leader M.R. Seni Pramoj, the elder brother of the SAP leader, had been named prime minister with the support of 72 Democrat MPs plus dozens more from the Agro-society party and others. Nevertheless, the Democrat administration was short-lived after the House voted by 152 to 111 to deny its stated policies, forcing the late prime minister, M.R. Seni, to resign.
The 1974 constitution called for a majority of MPs to approve the major policies of a government before they were implemented.
A political tug-of-war immediately emerged after M.R. Seni stepped down, pulling his Democrat party into the opposition bloc.
M.R. Kukrit was given solid support from a meagre majority of MPs, including those who had endorsed his brother for the premiership barely a month earlier.
But the SAP administration, consisting of a dozen coalition partners, was not a stable one. After less than a year in power M.R. Kukrit, citing critical parliamentary disputes, dissolved the House and called a general election.