Demon­stra­tors lack ‘firepower’

PPRP re­veals rea­son be­hind char­ter vote

Bangkok Post - - FRONT PAGE - AEKARACH SATTABURUT­H NATTAYA CHETCHOTIR­OS

The rul­ing Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) de­cided to post­pone Thurs­day’s char­ter amend­ment vote af­ter anti-govern­ment pro­test­ers showed a lack of public sup­port in chal­leng­ing the state, PPRP sources said.

The sources said a few days be­fore MPs and sen­a­tors sat on Wed­nes­day and Thurs­day to de­lib­er­ate on six pro­posed char­ter amend­ment bills, key PPRP fig­ures dis­cussed the pos­si­bil­ity of set­ting up a com­mit­tee to study all six drafts.

It is said that some sen­a­tors, such as Seree Suwan­panont, said the pro­posal to set up a char­ter draft­ing assem­bly was tan­ta­mount to draw­ing up a new char­ter with­out any clear frame­work for an amend­ment. More­over, most sen­a­tors were said to be up­set dur­ing the two days of de­bate as they were heav­ily at­tacked by op­po­si­tion par­ties.

“The op­po­si­tion par­ties dis­re­spected sen­a­tors, and they still had the temer­ity to ask the sen­a­tors to sup­port their bills,” the sources said.

Many sen­a­tors said they would vote against the bills from the op­po­si­tion par­ties, the sources said, adding that if a vote had been taken af­ter the first read­ing on Thurs­day, those bills would have re­ceived the sup­port of less than 84 out of the 250 sen­a­tors.

And if the bills had been shot down, the po­lit­i­cal pres­sure on the state would have been more in­tense than the es­tab­lish­ment of the study com­mit­tee, the sources said.

An­other ma­jor rea­son be­hind the PPRP’s de­ci­sion to de­lay the vote in the first read­ing of the bills was be­cause the party’s key fig­ures had re­alised antigov­ern­ment demon­stra­tions do not have enough “firepower” to bring to bear against the state.

In par­tic­u­lar, the protest lead­ers’ at­tacks on the high­est in­sti­tu­tion, the monar­chy, dur­ing their re­cent rally on Sept 19, failed to draw sup­port from neu­tral peo­ple, the sources said, adding they found the pro­test­ers’ lan­guage and con­tent hard to stom­ach.

The sources said Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Prawit Wong­su­won, who is the PPRP leader, had been in­formed of the pro­posal to set up the char­ter amend­ment study com­mit­tee.

He had in­structed Vi­rat Rat­tanaset, a chief govern­ment whip, to con­vince sen­a­tors, and coali­tion part­ners, par­tic­u­larly the Demo­crat and Bhum­jaithai Par­ties to sup­port the mo­tion to set up the com­mit­tee, they said.

At first, the two coali­tion par­ties were dis­pleased about the move, prompt­ing a se­nior PPRP fig­ure to clear the air with lead­ers of the two par­ties over the phone, the sources said. They said coali­tion MPs only knew about the move on Thurs­day evening, a few hours be­fore the vote to set up the com­mit­tee.

Chief op­po­si­tion whip Sutin Klungsang said he be­lieves the de­lay came af­ter state in­tel­li­gence agen­cies con­cluded pro­test­ers were not pow­er­ful enough to chal­lenge the govern­ment.

Deputy PPRP leader Pai­boon Ni­titawan, who pro­posed the com­mit­tee, said the party had es­ti­mated that one anti-govern­ment rally was too small to have any im­pact.

Mr Pai­boon also in­sisted the com­mit­tee was not a ploy to buy time, and this is in line with the par­lia­men­tary reg­u­la­tions.

Prime Min­is­ter Prayut Chan-o-cha yes­ter­day de­nied any in­volve­ment in the de­lay in the char­ter re­write vote, say­ing the post­pone­ment was in line with par­lia­men­tary rules.

He in­sisted he had no ob­jec­tion to char­ter amend­ments, adding the govern­ment’s le­gal team was look­ing into the pos­si­bil­ity of pre­sent­ing the state’s ver­sion of a char­ter amend­ment bill.

Gen Prayut also said he would not re­sign or dis­solve par­lia­ment un­der pres­sure from pro­test­ers, say­ing this is not the right way to solve prob­lems.

Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Wis­sanu Krea-ngam said yes­ter­day if the govern­ment de­cides to sub­mit its ver­sion of the char­ter re­write bill, it will also be de­lib­er­ated by a study com­mit­tee along­side the other bills.

This will also be an op­por­tu­nity for the ver­sion of the bill from iLaw to go to the com­mit­tee, the deputy prime min­is­ter said, re­fer­ring to a draft writ­ten by In­ter­net Law Re­form Di­a­logue (iLaw).

Apo­lit­i­cal cri­sis seems un­avoid­able af­ter politi­cians in the govern­ment coali­tion and the mil­i­taryap­pointed Se­nate col­luded in a char­ter re­write vote which, in ef­fect, slows down the re­write process by an­other month.

The char­ter de­ba­cle, a ver­sion of time buy­ing, came as Prime Min­is­ter Prayut Chano-cha and the con­ser­va­tive fac­tions back­tracked on the amend­ment out of fears they would lose the mech­a­nisms that en­able them to pro­long their power.

The govern­ment, along with its sen­a­tors, made the U-turn prob­a­bly be­cause they thought the pro-democ­racy pro­test­ers lost their mo­men­tum af­ter cross­ing the line over the monar­chy re­form, a move that caused some al­liances to keep away.

The rul­ing Palang Pracharath party (PPRP) and MPs in the coali­tion, to­gether with the Se­nate, shame­fully re­sorted to a par­lia­men­tary tech­ni­cal­ity that pushed a pro­posal to set up a study com­mit­tee that is al­lowed one month to con­sider the six bills, even when the move was ve­toed by the Democrats, a coali­tion party and the Op­po­si­tion bloc.

This caused up­roar. It dis­ap­pointed many who be­lieved the govern­ment and the Se­nate would ac­cept a char­ter amend­ment as a way of draw­ing the coun­try out of cri­sis and dif­fus­ing con­flict. How wrong they were. Back­track­ing on the char­ter re­write has sim­ply fu­elled public anger, and only given the pro-democ­racy ac­tivists a solid rea­son to mo­bilise peo­ple for an­other ma­jor rally in re­venge to the dirty po­lit­i­cal game that tricked the public into believ­ing the govern­ment ac­tu­ally sup­ported the char­ter re­write.

Pre­vi­ously, the govern­ment showed its sup­port on var­i­ous oc­ca­sions. Ear­lier this year, it set up a panel un­der Pi­ra­pan Sali­rathav­ib­haga, ad­viser to the PM, to study a char­ter amend­ment. The panel rec­om­mended the amend­ment of sec­tion 256 of the char­ter to pave the way for the for­ma­tion of a char­ter draft­ing com­mit­tee. The PM pledged that he would com­ply with any rec­om­men­da­tions made by the panel.

Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Wis­sanu Krea-ngam told the me­dia on sev­eral oc­ca­sions he was open to the process, while the govern­ment pro­posed a ref­er­en­dum bill to ac­com­mo­date the amend­ment. The bill was to be tabled to par­lia­ment in Novem­ber.

The PPRP had also pro­posed the amend­ment bill, with the com­po­si­tion of the 260-strong char­ter draft­ing body. Dur­ing the two-day ses­sion, the PPRP and coali­tion par­ties showed no signs would re­nege.

But even­tu­ally the mil­i­tary lean­ing govern­ment be­trayed the public, re­fus­ing to give up its power, main­tain­ing its un­jus­ti­fied po­lit­i­cal ad­van­tage, with the help of the 250-strong se­nate in­stalled by the junta.

The govern­ment may claim that the amend­ment process has not been de­railed and that it has just been given a tem­po­rary break, but what hap­pened on Thurs­day sim­ply showed a lack of sin­cer­ity.

Dur­ing the de­bate, some sen­a­tors seemed to give a strong hint the amend­ments would be dealt a hard time, with nu­mer­ous ob­sta­cles in­clud­ing a pro­posal for a ref­er­en­dum, that is to ask the public right away if they would en­dorse the amend­ment process, in­stead of ask­ing them to vote for the com­plete char­ter, as stip­u­lated in the 2017 supreme law.

Be­sides, there are at­tempts to make the pro­posed amend­ment un­con­sti­tu­tional by re­fer­ring to a rul­ing by the Con­sti­tu­tional Court in 2012 which aborted at­tempts by the then Yingluck Shi­nawa­tra govern­ment to amend the 2007 char­ter. At that time, the court ruled against the amend­ment process on the grounds that the 2007 char­ter had passed a ref­er­en­dum. There is a pos­si­bil­ity that the court will be asked to go back to the same rul­ing. With such ra­tio­nale, anti-char­ter amend­ment groups de­mand for a pre-draft­ing ref­er­en­dum.

Such a rul­ing is a key ref­er­ence. To abol­ish a char­ter and re­place it with an­other one re­quires a ref­er­en­dum. Some sen­a­tors even claimed that some groups may ap­peal to the court to abort the amend­ment process on the grounds that chang­ing Sec­tion 256, which stip­u­lates the for­ma­tion of a char­ter draft­ing panel, is un­con­sti­tu­tional.

In short, this was a plot to foil the amend­ment process, by the mil­i­tary-ap­pointed Se­nate, with the use of a le­gal tech­ni­cal­ity. Like it or not, we will see the court which has been crit­i­cised for its rul­ing against the Fu­ture For­ward Party dragged into pol­i­tics.

Adding an­other ref­er­en­dum on top of the orig­i­nal two will make an amend­ment next to im­pos­si­ble as it will come with huge ex­pen­di­ture and take even longer. Mr Wis­sanu once said the process would take no less than two years.

But with some at­tempts by the pow­ers-thatbe to abort it, the process will take at least two and a half years and that means this govern­ment’s ten­ure will end be­fore the process is done. In that case, the next elec­tion will be held un­der the cur­rent 2017 char­ter with the same se­nate ap­point­ing the PM.

This dirty game will in­ten­sify po­lit­i­cal con­flicts, as it gives anti-dic­ta­tor­ship groups a cause to go to the streets and kick the Prayut govern­ment out. Such a rally would at­tract more peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly those who had pre­vi­ously re­frained from demon­stra­tions.

The dif­fi­cult part is that there is no guar­an­tee the pro­test­ers will limit them­selves to po­lit­i­cal de­mands. On the con­trary, they may again touch upon the is­sue of monar­chy re­form, which could be even more dan­ger­ous.

Apart from ral­lies on the streets, MPs in the govern­ment bloc, es­pe­cially the Democrats and min­now par­ties, will be pres­sured by their vot­ers, who will de­mand they hon­our the prom­ises they made about the char­ter amend­ment be­fore the 2019 elec­tion.

These par­ties will find it nec­es­sary to dis­tance them­selves from this dirty game, or risk los­ing a po­lit­i­cal base.

In that case, it will rat­tle the Prayut govern­ment.

One month from now will see Thai pol­i­tics shrouded in con­flict. On the sur­face, the Prayut govern­ment seems to have won this po­lit­i­cal game but it will def­i­nitely en­counter grow­ing pres­sures, in­side and out­side par­lia­ment, while it loses sup­port from the public.

The tu­mult may lead to, at best, House dis­so­lu­tion and new elec­tions. But if the sit­u­a­tion is out of con­trol, a chance for an­other mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion is also high.

‘‘ This was a plot to foil the amend­ment process, by the mil­i­tary-ap­pointed se­nate, with the use of a le­gal tech­ni­cal­ity.

APICHART JINAKUL

Prime Min­is­ter and De­fence Min­is­ter Prayut Chan-o-cha speaks to the me­dia af­ter chair­ing the meet­ing of the De­fence Coun­cil, the fi­nal meet­ing of the fis­cal year 2020.

ARNUN CHONMAHATR­AKOOL

Anti-govern­ment demon­stra­tors led by the Free Peo­ple group gather at the Democ­racy Mon­u­ment on Ratchadam­noen Av­enue to push for char­ter amend­ment on Aug 16.

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