Seeking stability, Thai charter drafters could achieve parliamentary dictatorship

Seeking stability, Thai charter drafters could achieve parliamentary dictatorship

LAST WEEK, in order to create a stable government, charter drafters inserted a few new provisions that will have the likely result of empowering the prime minister.

Under the new constitution, the PM can submit a request to Parliament for a vote on a confidence motion. If the premier obtains less than half the votes from the lower-house MPs, he or she can then dissolve the Parliament.

On the other hand, the opposition can also submit a request for a no-confidence motion.

If more than half of the lower-house MPs vote against the PM, the premier can also dissolve the parliament.

And finally, under these charter proposals, the PM can declare what he or she perceived as "important bills" in pursuing the premier's administrative agenda. If the lower-house MPs do not approve, the premier can again dissolve the Parliament.

This in effect means a prime minister can push through "important" bills in which MPs face choices between not objecting to them, or going back to election campaigns.

Charter drafters argued that such provisions were necessarily in order for the country to have a stable administration.

It is predicted the introduction of a Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP) electoral system will result in many medium sized parties, which could lead to multi-party coalition governments.

Past experience suggests that coalition parties, or some groups of MPs, will therefore have increased negotiating powers over the executive in order to keep them in the coalition.

As a result, it has become necessary for the PM to have some "tools" to keep the coalition parties or MPs in line and prevent them from "causing trouble".

Those tools are the power to dissolve Parliament, because according to a charter drafter, "what MPs fear most is an election because it's exhausting and costs a lot of money."

However, this could possibly be the charter drafters' hidden agenda - and arguably mechanisms designed specifically for the "non-elected PM" to keep the coalition under control and legitimately pursue his agenda.

These powers to dissolve Parliament would specifically benefit a "non-elected PM" for several reasons.

First, a non-elected PM would have nothing to lose if he or she decided to dissolve Parliament after it had become obvious the PM had lost control of the government, since - unlike elected MPs - he or she would not have to pay up for an election campaign.

This in effect would give the non-elected premier a significant psychological upper hand over coalition parties and MPs.

Secondly, an elected PM - who is likely to be a party leader - would arguably as reluctant as the rest of the MPs to dissolve Parliament. Most likely, he or she had invested as much if not more than all the MPs during the previous election.

The argument that such provisions would give an elected PM the upper hand over elected MPs in the coalition is true only to a certain extent, in comparison to a non-elected PM.

Thirdly, provision to give the PM power to push through important bills is unlikely to have any practical effect on the elected PM, because the "important bills" that an elected PM would propose are ones that were promised during election campaigns.

In contrast, a non-elected PM, who never participated in any election campaigns, could propose bills initiated under the PM's own agenda or those of his or her backers. Likely, they would be passed by MPs keen to avoid going back to a general election.

These provisions would create only a small practical effect for an elected PM - while they could destroy the checks and balances system that is already weak in the Thai political system.

And most importantly, they seem to set the stage for a non-elected PM arriving in the country's most powerful administrative office, facing an opposition reluctant to do its job, and coalition parties and MPs forced to obey.

These provisions could set the stage for the return of parliamentary dictatorship, but possibly even worse this time round - because it is led by an undemocratic one.

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