Attention in Thai politics has been focused this week on the cabinet’s oath-taking error.
The episode is worrying for several reasons. This was succinctly summarized by Parit Wacharasindhu: if it was an unintentional gaffe, it casts doubt Prayut’s ability to handle complex issues; if it was intentional, it puts into question his respect for a constitution that his own junta drafted and supported.
Indeed, concern has been expressed on both sides of the political aisle. Opposition parties have called on the prime minister to lead the cabinet in another oath-taking, while a former advisor to the Constitution Drafting Committee said Prayut should seek a royal pardon.
But given the a) extensive coverage of this issue, b) the fact that in the end no one seriously expects that it would actually affect the government, I wanted to take a closer look at another mounting problem for the government: its already-slim, evaporating parliamentary majority.
Mongkolkit Suksintharanon, leader of the Thai Civilized Party, announced this week that five of the nine micro-parties with one seat would be leaving the government coalition. Another MP who heads the Thai People Justice Party claimed seven parties were ready to quit. Confusingly, only Mongkolkit and another party leader made good on their threat today and vowed they would no longer accept any political positions from Palang Pracharath.
I personally try to avoid writing or tweeting about Mongkolkit. An advocate for whipping as a punishment for corruption, he is only in parliament because of the bizarre formula used to calculate parliamentary seats. He admitted that he had promised not to support Prayut during the election, only to then join the government coalition, because he wanted to gain votes. He said that it was fun to see two female MPs squabbling and encouraged them to slap each other. The most fitting way to treat such a politician is to deprive him of the media oxygen that he craves.
But it also says a lot about the current government that its stability depends on the whims of men like Mongkolkit. After his announcement, the government suffered its first defeat in parliament, losing in a 205-204 vote on a vote on parliamentary regulations.
To be sure, the government’s stability is not yet in immediate question. Mongkolkit’s vow not to return to the coalition does not amount to much given how economical he is with the value to which he gives his own words. At his press conference, he also said that the leaving micro-parties would still be ready to support Prayut in a confidence vote.
What this does illustrate, however, is the necessity for the government to satisfy otherwise minor players. Thamanat Prompow said that the government is planning to hold talks with the smaller parties to hear their concerns. How, then, does the government plan to satisfy their coalition partners? Is it with special positions for those who do not deserve to be in parliament, let alone in the cabinet?
The events of this week also serves as a warning sign for rougher times ahead. The government is barely under pressure at the moment, its oath debacle aside. It has not yet tried to pass ambitious legislation, nor has it faced a real crisis. Yet its parliamentary majority is already starting to shake. What will happen when push comes to shove and the government actually faces real issues? This week’s defeat was relatively trivial, but it may be a taste of things to come.
Thailand deserves better than a government that is at the mercy of men like Mongkolkit, MPs barely anyone voted for and who lack any sort of ideology. Unfortunately, Palang Pracharath’s desperation to form a shambolic coalition means that is precisely what we got.