Wednesday, 27 September 2023

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APHR asserts Thai people’s right to genuine democracy amid second PM vote

The ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), in a bid to support the democratic aspirations of the Thai people, has voiced strong criticism of Thailand’s constitutional roadblocks ahead of the country’s second Prime Minister vote.

Charles Santiago, Co-Chairperson of APHR and former Malaysian Member of Parliament, underscored the mandate won by the eight-party coalition that proposed a Prime Minister candidate.

The coalition garnered nearly 27 million votes, equating to over 70% of the total votes cast in the May general elections.

Santiago pointed out the glaring contradiction in the Thai political setup. “In any genuine democracy, there wouldn’t be any doubt about who would form the new government with such a substantial majority. However, existing rules, designed to uphold the military’s political role, hinder any attempts at authentic reform,” he said.

This military stronghold is embedded within the current Thai constitution, established in 2017 following a 2014 military coup. The constitution comprises a 250-person Senate, effectively appointed by the Royal Thai Military, with the power to veto any constitutional amendments.

Santiago strongly condemned the senators’ disregard for the people’s will in the previous Prime Minister vote. “Their lack of respect for the clear message from the ballot box is at odds with any definition of a real democracy. Understandably, many Thais are angry that their votes seem insignificant. Therefore, constitutional reform is urgently needed, and it should be a priority for any new government,” he stressed.

Santiago appealed to Thai parliament members to remember their duty to the people when casting their votes. He warned that further hindrances to forming a new government could lead to political unrest and instability. He also called on Thai authorities to respect the rights of protesters, cautioning against excessive use of force.

This declaration comes at a time when Pita Limjaroenrat, the leading reformist from the Move Forward Party (MFP) that won the majority in May’s elections, is facing opposition from establishment lawmakers.

Limjaroenrat’s attempts to become Prime Minister have been thwarted by the very constitutional mechanisms that Santiago criticizes. His nomination is due for a second vote on Wednesday.

If Pita’s next bid fails, the eight-party coalition backing him is expected to fall in line behind property tycoon Srettha Thavisin, 60, a political novice who campaigned strongly in the election.

Srettha’s Pheu Thai party is seen as a vehicle for the Shinawatra political clan, whose members include two former prime ministers ousted by military coups in 2006 and 2014.

But as a successful entrepreneur liked by business leaders among the Thai elite, he is seen as a potential compromise that would smooth the way for the coalition to take office.

Prawit Wongsuwan, 77, a former Thai army chief who served as number two in the junta that took power in 2014, has also been floated as a candidate by the parliament’s military bloc.

Thai voters roundly rejected army-backed parties in May’s election, and political analyst Thitinan Pongsudhirak said the prospect of a Prawit premiership could spark a backlash in a country that is no stranger to political unrest.

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