Demonstrators lack ‘firepower’
PPRP reveals reason behind charter vote
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.
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.
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.