Still no clear end-game in sight after Thai poll

BANGKOK - After three months of protest, the anti-government People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) is still unable to finish its fight and oust the Yingluck Shinawatra government.

So the question lingers: "How will this game end?" A key PDRC leader has said this game is too big for the group alone to win. It needs help from powerful assistants: the military and independent agencies.

In an overview, this "game of power" is a fight between the government and the PDRC. Both are competing to claim legitimacy and that they are only using peaceful means.

The government's strategy is to depend on the law. Caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's decision to dissolve the House on December 9 closed the possibility of her resignation in response to PDRC's demands, as she claimed the Constitution required a government to stay in charge as caretaker until a new government is formed.

After that, the government clung to power as it pushed for a February 2 election without postponement. It held on, despite the Election Commission (EC), the poll organiser, using both soft and hard requests for postponement, from expressing concern to asking the Constitutional Court to rule whether it could be postponed. The court, in a cautious move, could only determine that such change was possible but did not rule what the government must do.

While the government sees the election as a guarantee of its legitimacy, what we have seen from the election has not been as it had imagined.

Initial reports showed the turnout in areas where the election took place was 45.8 per cent - a drop from 75 per cent in the July 3, 2011 election.

Some people might claim that many voters were unable to vote because they were obstructed. But the figures show that even in areas unblocked by the protesters, such as the North and the Northeast - which are the voting base of the ruling Pheu Thai Party - the turnout also dropped to 51 per cent in the North and 55 per cent in the Northeast - while it was 77 and 72 per cent last time.

It is clear the House of Representatives will not be able to convene as fewer than 95 per cent of the MPs were voted in by this election, as required by law. The government will have to remain the caretaker without full mandate for a while yet. It would have to ask for permission before making important moves to solve major problems.

Also, since it has no authority to borrow money to pay farmers in the rice-pledging scheme, it seems the Pheu Thai's populist policies have begun to backfire.

On PDRC's side, the protesters have adopted a prolonged strategy in reducing the government's legitimacy over time and waiting for its hoped-for powerful assistants to complete their work. The PDRC tried to push the military to take its side but received no clear response. Therefore, it is turning to the independent agencies.

The prominent players now are the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) and the Constitutional Court.

The NACC is investigating criminal charges and impeachment against senators and former MPs related to the Constitution amendment as well as rice-pledging scheme cases.

Yingluck is also being investigated as the top supervisor of the scheme. If indicted, the political office holders must be suspended from performing duties.

Meanwhile, the Democrat Party has submitted a party dissolution case with the Constitutional Court against Pheu Thai Party for its government-invoked emergency decree, which could be deemed as having caused advantage and disadvantage for election contestants.

In the past, that might have irritated Pheu Thai, but some key members say solutions have been prepared.

In case Yingluck should be suspended from work, a deputy could be put in charge. Meanwhile, a party dissolution charge is not so frightening to them, as Yingluck and key members of the party are not executive members.

Certainly, Pheu Thai does not worry about legitimacy. Although it must face those penalties, its government would still be in power despite them.

The military is not a problem for Pheu Thai either. Experience from the past seems to indicate the military would refrain from staging a coup. However, the government does not trust the military and chooses to use the police as its main force.

A key Pheu Thai member said a successful military coup would involve holding the PM hostage. Also, a government in exile in Chiang Mai or a northeastern province, as well as the red shirts' force to counter the military, might have been included in any plan.