Thailand’s Constitutional Court has refused to accept a petition from the progressive Move Forward Party (MFP), requesting that it rule on the constitutionality of a July 19 parliamentary vote that prevented the party’s leader Pita Limjaroenrat from renominating himself as prime minister.
In a unanimous decision announced yesterday, the court said that it had refused to accept the petition on the grounds that the MFP’s petition was formally submitted by the Office of the Ombudsman, which was not directly affected by Parliament’s decision.
The ruling has now opened the way for Parliament to convene on August 22 in order to attempt to select a prime minister, House Speaker Wan Muhamad Noor Matha announced after the court’s ruling.
The Constitutional Court’s highly pedantic decision will do little to dampen accusations that the court is a tool of Thailand’s conservative establishment, which will always find ways to rule against political forces that threaten entrenched interests.
Indeed, despite winning a surprise victory at the general election on May 14, in which it won 150 of the 500 seats in the House of Representatives, the MFP has been obstructed at every turn by institutions whose implicit or explicit purpose is to restrict anti-establishment parties or candidates from taking power.
In particular, the party has been frustrated in its attempts to confirm a prime minister, which requires a majority vote of both the directly-elected House and the military-appointed Senate. In the first vote on July 13, most of the 250 senators did as expected and blocked Pita’s candidacy, citing his party’s support for the reform of the lese-majeste law, which criminalizes criticisms of the Thai monarchy.
In the next prime ministerial vote on July 19, the MFP attempted to renominate Pita, a move that conservative parliamentarians protested on constitutional grounds. Wan Noor then called for a vote on the question, which, given the weight of numbers in the Senate, once again went against the MFP.
After calling for the Constitutional Court to weigh in on the issue, the MFP then agreed to allow its ally, the Pheu Thai Party (PTP), to nominate its own prime minister, but when senators and conservative House members said that they would not support any government that included the MFP, the party was forced to drop out of the coalition. It has since been replaced by more conservative parties including the royalist Bhumjaithai party.
As the Thai Enquirer explained, yesterday’s ruling effectively prevents Pita from renominating himself for the position of prime minister – a nomination that would be almost certain to fail in any event. The MFP has announced that it will not submit another petition to the Constitutional Court, but will instead file a petition to Parliament, urging it to reconsider its earlier decision. (This, too, would be unlikely to succeed.)
There also remains the question of whether the MFP could resubmit the petition in its own right. If the party takes this route, knowing full well that the Constitutional Court will almost certainly rule against it, it will further prolong Thailand’s post-election impasse, which has dragged on now for more than three months.
More challenges could also be in store for the MFP, with the Constitutional Court also announcing yesterday that it has granted the party and its leader an additional 30 days to submit statements pertaining to a case that could potentially lead to the party’s dissolution. The conservative lawyer Teerayut Suwankesorn has asked the court to determine whether the party’s efforts to amend the lese-majeste law amount to an attempt to overthrow the country’s constitutional monarchy.
However, the immediate attention now turns to the upcoming prime ministerial vote, and whether the current Pheu Thai-led coalition, which now consists of nine parties holding 238 seats in parliament, can cobble together the necessary votes to confirm its chosen prime ministerial candidate, the real estate developer Srettha Thavisin. The MFP has already announced that it will not vote to confirm Srettha, claiming that the new government, which by necessity could also soon include two military-aligned parties, was “not reflective of the people’s voice.”
On the basis of today’s precedent, should Srettha’s candidacy fail on August 22, the PTP will be unable to nominate him a second time.