By THE NATION
WITH THE 30-DAY constitutional deadline for a new House of Representatives to convene after a general election today, a legal question has arisen as to whether the caretaker government can still be considered to be legally functioning.
With the prospect of a possible political vacuum, the opposition Democrat Party plans to seek an interpretation of the law and the caretaker government’s status, said the head of the Democrats’ legal team, Wirat Kalayasiri.
He said yesterday that the party was considering two moves. First, it would start a campaign to impeach the Yingluck Shinawatra administration by trying to win support from at least 20,000 eligible voters for the process of impeaching the government for allegedly violating the Constitution.
The Democrats would also petition the Constitutional Court to rule whether the government’s caretaker status ceased after the deadline expired, and also whether it violated Article 68 of the charter for allegedly gaining power unconstitutionally – by “overstaying” in power. The party’s legal team will meet later this week to discuss what to do.
A group of 40 senators plans a similar legal move with the court, according to a source.Article 127 of the charter states: “The National Assembly shall, within 30 days as from the date of the election of members of the House of Representatives, be summoned for the first sitting.” However, no clause was added about what action may be taken when the deadline is not met.
The caretaker government has limited power, as it is prohibited by law from doing things that result in commitments for its successor. For example, it is unable to borrow money to pay farmers who sold rice to the price-pledging scheme.
The election on February 2 failed to fill the 500 seats in the Parliament, as there were no election candidates in 28 constituencies. According to the Constitution, at least 95 per cent of the House of Representatives, or 475 seats, must be filled before it can convene its first session after any general election.
Political activist Thaikorn Polsuwan recently petitioned the Constitutional Court for a ruling on whether the Yingluck government still has status as an administration if the House does not have a quorum – in this case 475 MPs – to convene a session to elect a new prime minister within 30 days of the election.
Caretaker Labour Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung, who is also in charge of the government’s Centre for Maintaining Law and Order, said yesterday he believed that Yingluck could remain in office after the 30-day deadline had passed. He cited Article 181 of the Constitution, which states, “The outgoing Council of Ministers shall remain in office for performing duties until the newly appointed Council of Ministers takes office.”
Some legal experts believe expiry of the 30-day deadline means Yingluck can no longer keep her post as caretaker PM.
Earlier, the Constitutional Court rejected a petition by the Democrats seeking a ruling on whether the February 2 election was valid and, if not, whether the ruling Pheu Thai Party should be dissolved.
In a related development, the anti-government People’s Democratic Reform Committee will step up its movement and convene members to draft a blueprint for reform in Thailand, PDRC leader Satit Wongnongtaey announced yesterday.
Satit said the convention would be held in the next few days. Representatives from all walks of life would be invited to join and propose the ideas.
He said the relocation of rally sites to Lumpini Park was seen as an upgrade of the campaign, while addresses onstage and activities would go on around the clock.