Orchestrated efforts to secure 'outsider' PM seat for Gen Prayut

In the aftermath of the 7 August referendum, junta supporters have strategically initiated efforts to ensure that Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the current junta head, will be Thailand’s next ‘outsider’ Prime Minister.
 
While the victory in favour of the junta-sponsored draft constitution in the 7 August referendum seemingly confirmed mass support for the junta regime, the legitimacy of the referendum process has been widely disputed. Gen Prayut himself has nevertheless affirmed he would welcome the role of ‘outsider’ Prime Minister in the absence of other ‘good guys’.
 
“Politicians have to propose three candidates right? So let them propose. And if there’s no way to go, then just come back and ask me,” said Gen Prayut on 19 August after media asked whether he wants to be an ‘outsider’ Prime Minister.
 
‘Is he serious?’, you might question, given that Prayut is known for careless words. But considering the various proposals from junta supporters, this time he may be serious.   
 
 
Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha (Photo courtesy: Khaosod English)

Junta-supporting political party

 
Paiboon Nititawan, a former charter drafter, said on 14 August that he will establish the “Reforming People Party” to promote Gen Prayut as the Prime Minister of Thailand under the new constitution. By activating outsider PM channel in Article 272 of the draft, Paiboon believes it is possible to secure the PM seat for the junta head.
 
Article 88 of the junta-backed constitution states that before general election campaigns begin, every party must promote up-to-three Prime Ministerial candidates to the Election Commision of Thailand (ECT). The ECT will then declare the list of all candidates to the public before elections begin.
 
But Article 272 in the problematic Provisional Section states that in the event that the lower house cannot reach a consensus on who should be Prime Minister according to the candidate list, Article 88 can be exempted if at least half of all MPs petition the National Assembly (the Senate combined with the lower house). 
 
MPs can then promote someone else as Prime Minister. In other words, Article 272 opens a channel for an ‘outsider’ PM.
 
“I personally believe that Gen Prayut would not allow any party to put his name in the PM candidates namelist according to Article 88. So the only way that Gen Prayut can be the PM is through Article 272,” Paiboon stated.
 
To reserve the PM seat for the junta head then, Paiboon said that his party will get into the parliament without promoting any PM candidates according to Article 88. Then, if the House of Representatives cannot reach a consensus, Paiboon’s party will promote Gen Prayut for Prime Ministerial candidacy according to Article 272.  

New electoral system aims to weaken major parties

 
Paiboon’s dream alone might sound far-fetched. But considering the electoral system under the draft charter, his dream may be possible. 
 
The new electoral system invented in the draft constitution is MMA (Mixed Member Apportionment) which allegedly aims to balance the popular and the less popular parties in the lower house. In this system, people will cast only one ballot to vote their district MPs, on the basis of one man one vote. 
 
After the district election results are finalized, all parties will get extra representatives from the partylist system, based on the proportion of votes they received from the constituency ballot minus the number of MPs they already gained from constituency votes. There are 500 MPs in total: 350 constituency seats and another 150 party list seats.
 
This system will reduce the seats gained by major political parties since the more they win in the district election, the less they receive from the partylist track. On the other hand, small-to-medium or new emerging parties, like Paiboon’s, will directly benefit from this election system.   
 
Moreover parties do not have to actually win any constituency to receive seats. If their ballots across the country are enough, they will get representatives seats in the parliament through the party list system. 
 
Assume the national voter turnout is 50 million and there are three parties -- A, B, and C -- running in the election. Parties A, B, and C receives 200, 150, and 0 seats from the district election respectively while the total votes each party received nationwide are 25, 23, and 2 million respectively. Each party will receive an extra party list MP for every 100,000 ballots that voted for their district MPs across the country, minus with the number of MPs already received from the district level.
 
The number 100,000 comes from the voter turnout (50 million) divided by the total seats in the lower house (500). Party C, which did not win in any constituency, still gets 20 seats from the partylist track. 

Senate’s right to approve and ‘propose’ PM

 
The additional question, which was passed in the referendum together with the draft charter, is also problematic. The question was complexly worded as ‘Do you or do you not agree that for the sake of continuing national reform in pursuance of the strategic plan, that it is appropriate to specify as a transitional measure that for the first five years from the convening of the first parliament under this constitution, the prime minister shall be approved by joint session of parliament?’
 
Basically, the approval gives the 250 seats junta-appointed senate the right to approve the Prime Minister jointly with the lower house for five years after the draft is ratified. The Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC), must now amend the draft to fit the additional question. 
 
Even so, some junta affiliates fear this process of joint voting can not be relied upon to secure the Prime Ministerial seat for the junta leader.
 
Over the past couple weeks, various members of the junta’s National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA), have proposed to additionally provide the House of Senates with the right to ‘propose’ PM candidates, just as in House of Representatives.
 
Wanchai Sonsiri, a spokesperson for the NRSA, said on 17 August that since the additional question was passed in the referendum with a landslide, giving the senate the right to propose Prime Ministerial candidates would reflect ‘majority will’.
 
“All of this is the people’s will. They want elected branches to work with other branches, including national security sectors, in building, reforming, and maintaining the country with peace and order during the transition period. Every sector need to cooperate in the hope that in this five years, the country will be back on the track of consolidate democracy,” Wanchai stated.
 
Apart from Wanchai, Seri Suwanphanon, chairman of the NRSA and former junta’s charter drafter, also posted on his Facebook that the senate’s rights must include the rights to propose PM candidates. He said that the referendum results show that Thai people distrust politicians to vote for PM alone.
 
“People distrust MPs so they passed the referendum allowing the senate to be a part of crucial decision making, approving the Prime Minister. The right to propose candidates is, therefore, a part of the decision making,” reads Seri’s post.

Chance for Thailand to have elected PM still exists but very slim

 
So the question remains -- what do elected politicians have to do in order to prevent the outsider PM? According to Kamnoon Sidhisamarn, a spokesman of the NRSA, elected politicians have to achieve three difficult tasks in order to shut down any ‘outsider’ PM.
 
First, elected officials have to propose only their party members as Prime Ministerial candidates. Second, a candidate must be approved by at least 376 votes from 500 MPs under Article 88. If politicians can achieve this, Thailand will immediately have an elected PM. Third, in the case that MPs cannot fulfill the two previous conditions, at least 251 MPs must object to the activation of Article 272 which will allow the junta’s senate to approve the outsider PM.
 
But Kamnoon explained further that the third condition will lead to a political deadlock since no other parliamentary solution is provided in the constitution. In this case, there is still Article 5 to make an outsider PM possible. 
 
Article 5 states that when a political deadlock occurs, the Constitutional Court’s Chairman will host a meeting between the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the opposition party’s leader, Speaker of the House of Lord, Prime Minister, President of the Supreme Court, President of the Supreme Administrative Court, Constitutional Court’s Chairman, and Presidents of Constitutional Independent Organizations.
 
The meeting will find a solution for the political deadlock and that might -- or might not -- also pave the way for Thailand’s outsider PM.