Monday, November 15, 2010

Not Easy Being PM

Prime Minister Abhisit certainly doesn't have an easy job here.  We all know about the challenges he faces from the opposition red shirt party, but sometimes his coalition government partners also cause him a certain amount of grief.

The courts recently disqualified a handful of parliament members for failing to disclose their ownership in a company that had contracts with the state.  This is in violation of version 2007 of the Thai Constitution.  On December 12th there will be elections to fill those vacancies.  

Two of the members who were disqualified are also deputy ministers in the coalition government.  One is from the the Chart Thai Pattana party and the other from the Bhumjaithai party.  Both of these are key members of the coalition that put the Democrats in power.  Both deputy ministers have announced that they will run in the by-elections.  They may not have an easy path to reelection, however, because at least one of them was elected as a member of former PM Thaksin's party.  He may find the previous support that he enjoyed has eroded considerably.  

Prime Minister Abhisit has made it known that he wishes the two deputies to step down from their positions while they contest the election.  He cited the example of the Deputy Prime Minister, and his right hand man, Suthep Thaugsuban, who stepped down from his position to run for an open parliament seat.  The reason was to remove even the appearance that he was using his influence as Deputy Prime minister to win the election.  

The coalition partners certainly don't share the Prime Minister's stated desire to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.  They stated, perhaps correctly, that there is no legal imperative to step down, and that they don't want to do so.  They seem to believe this to be an internal party matter, and that the entire problem was that the Prime Minister opened his big mouth. 

The Prime Minister could reshuffle his cabinet to remove them.  This, however could fracture the coaliton and lead to new elections.  My guess is that new elections may not hurt the Chart Thai party a lot.  Unless the Peau Thai party (red shirts) win enough seats to form the government by itself, there is a good chance that Chart Thai could be part of a future coalition government.  

The Bhumjaithai party may have more to fear from elections.  They are an important coaliton partner under their unofficial leader Newin Chidchob (who is serving a five year ban from politics).   The problem, however, is that their members of parliament were all elected as members of the People Power Party (Thaksin's group) and defected.  Many of them will face election in the red strong hold of northern and north-eastern Thailand.  In a few by-elections between Peau Thai (successor to the People Power Party) and Bhumjaithai, Peau Thai has crushed its opposition.  Its not only politics between the red shirts and Bhumjaithai, its personal.  Mr. Newin was former PM Thaksin's right hand man, and he broke ranks to side with Thaksin's "enemies".  The Peau Thai party will go all out to defeat the Bhumjaithai party, and if Bhumjaithai does not win seats, its power evaporates.  No more plum ministry positions.  

I hope that the PM wins out and forces the two men from office.  Its bad enough that they violated the law, force new elections, and then just run for the same seat.  I hope the PM is sincere about his desire to have a more ethical government, but I'm not sure that his coalition partners are all on board.  

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