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That tricky thing called no-confidence debate

Written by World Events

One “tradition” that Move Forward will find hard to challenge concerns the parliamentary censure of the government. Although opposition MPs are not required to do it every time it is permissible, they do it every time it is possible nonetheless.

Why the biggest party does not want to do it now is understandable. The reasons given by Move Forward leader Chaithawat Tulathon a few days ago are also very sensible, starting with solid corruption information being hard to come by in the early days of a government and how state money should be spent having been talked about during the budget debate.

His explanation, which is by no means a confirmation that Move Forward will not officially censure the Srettha government during this parliamentary term, is too straightforward for the highly-complicated Thai politics, however. By that, even if what he said is the real motive, Thailand’s political circumstances can cause imagination to run wild.

First and foremost, that imagination has to do with the peculiar ties between the Move Forward and Pheu Thai parties. A censure will have to bombard Move Forward’s former ally, which now controls key administrative positions, or the no-confidence motion will be pointless.

The reluctance shown by Move Forward will be linked not to the “lack of information” but to the possibility that it will turn into something the party does not like, or total bashing of Pheu Thai. It could allow the Democrats to steal the show, apart from putting another nail on the “divorce” coffin.

Move Forward going all out against Pheu Thai will be weird. During the Prayut government, the prime minister was a big ideological target, and Move Forward and Pheu Thai joined hands in landing heavy punches. Srettha, on the other hand, will be more slippery in the cross hairs, and if Move Forward is not careful, the party can come across as a jealous guy.

Secondly, a delayed censure will be perceived as Move Forward’s inability to take a stand on Thaksin Shinawatra. Having presented itself as a campaigner against political persecution and yet leading the opposition, Move Forward is getting caught between a rock and a hard place. Again, this perception will speak bigger volumes than “It’s too early to call a censure.”

Granted, censuring the government over Thaksin will not serve public interest, and there are better no-confidence topics that will do the country good. Move Forward, however, will be asked why it does not think Thaksin’s treatment is an urgent social equality problem deserving an immediate attention of the opposition. It’s a very tough question.

There is no need to remind Move Forward that, in politics, perception is everything. By expressing doubts on sometimes-unhealthy censure traditions, Move Forward wants to project a “fair” image through allowing the government to really work first. That can be a big risk.

The opposition distracting the government with censure at every opportunity has in fact been a problem, as there have been times when no-confidence debates served nothing but desires to rock the boat. Yet, to break with tradition requires not just boldness but also extreme confidence that the public will not suspect any ulterior motive.

Political veteran Warong Dechgitvigrom, in a Facebook post, said Thaksin is an immediate issue and all the relevant evidence belied Move Forward’s claims that there was not enough information to attack the government with because it was still early days.

But then again, if a censure is launched and the debate revolves around Thaksin, the Democrats, who are his clear-cut enemies, can score more points than Move Forward. In his Facebook criticism of Move Forward, Warong also noted that the man who virtually founded the biggest party, Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, met with Thaksin in Hong Kong after last year’s general election.

Move Forward did sound confused over Thaksin. In a statement on his release from police custody, Move Forward walked a tightrope and hoped its best was good enough.

“… Of course, if we look at the past, it’s undeniable that, as a (democratically-elected) prime minister ousted by a coup, Khun Thaksin did not get democratic justice he deserved, leading to a lot of people asking questions concerning fairness in cases filed against him and punishment that he received,” said the public statement.

“But looking at the present, when Khun Thaksin has decided to bring himself back to face the country’s justice process, it’s also undeniable that the government’s explanations about his health and rules leading to his parole don’t stop the society from asking questions about equality and treatment of all politically-accused people.”

Imagine saying that in Parliament. The interrogator can become the interrogated.

Warong’s list of “immediate” issues also included land-grabbing by politicians affecting distribution of farmland to the poor, renewed territorial concern regarding the status of the Kood island, and the controversial government attempts to fund the digital wallet scheme.

Chaithawat did not slam the door on official censure taking place early, though. He also pledged to seriously monitor the government, scrutinise the Thaksin affair, and maintain a never-say-die attitude.

“We are not going easy on the administration,” he said. “Everything depends on the quality of the information (which I need to) cross-check with our partners first. We haven’t talked to everybody.”

According to hints from Move Forward, if there is no censure, it can be in the form of debate without voting. But that kind of debate, even if it concerns a sensitive legislative draft, will not have the impact of a censure.

Most importantly, however, it can also generate a perception that Move Forward does not want.

By Tulsathit Taptim

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