Char­ter panel angers re­formists

Bangkok Post - - SPOTLIGHT -

The char­ter amend­ment process thought to have been ready for lift-off was aborted un­ex­pect­edly in the few fi­nal hours be­fore par­lia­men­tar­i­ans were due to cast their votes to se­lect a mo­tion that would have set the stage for the rewrit­ing of the con­sti­tu­tion.

No­body doubts the re­la­tion­ship be­tween this week’s de­lib­er­a­tion of char­ter amend­ment bills and the anti-govern­ment, stu­den­tled move­ment which has flexed its mus­cle over the past weeks.

Pre­vi­ously, a re­write of the con­sti­tu­tion had looked un­likely to ma­te­ri­alise de­spite hav­ing been in­cluded in the govern­ment pol­icy state­ment.

How­ever, the chang­ing po­lit­i­cal cir­cum­stances were be­lieved to have made many govern­ment mem­bers think se­ri­ously about fix­ing the char­ter as cam­pus ral­lies spear­headed by the Stu­dent Union of Thai­land and the Free Youth move­ment grew against the govern­ment, ac­cord­ing to po­lit­i­cal ob­servers.

A to­tal of six con­sti­tu­tion amend­ment bills were tabled to par­lia­ment for de­bate with the one spon­sored by govern­ment coali­tion par­ties mosy likely to be picked as the frame­work for the re­write process — if any of the bills pass the first read­ing.

The govern­ment’s amend­ment bill paves the way for amend­ing Sec­tion 256 to al­low for the con­sti­tu­tion to be more eas­ily re­drafted and for the for­ma­tion of a Con­sti­tu­tion Draft­ing Assem­bly (CDA) to draw up a more demo­cratic char­ter.

The op­po­si­tion and anti-govern­ment groups have un­der­lined sev­eral de­mands for char­ter changes, one of them deal­ing with the scrap­ping of the coup-ap­pointed sen­a­tors who have a role to play in choos­ing a prime min­is­ter. The Se­nate’s power to help pick the coun­try’s leader, ac­cord­ing to the crit­ics, was a legacy of the coup de­signed to re­tain Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha as prime min­is­ter and down­right un­fair to other prime min­is­ter can­di­dates.

An­other amend­ment bill, which was put for­ward by the rights group, In­ter­net Di­a­logue on Law Re­form (iLaw), and de­scribed by the group as the “public’s draft”, ar­rived late, so it was not in­cluded in the Sept 23-24 par­lia­ment meet­ing agenda. House Speaker Chuan Leek­pai could not al­low it to be de­bated with­out hav­ing its con­tent ex­am­ined first.

While it is safe to say the govern­ment can­not turn back on the char­ter re­write, some crit­ics are con­cerned it may not be enough to keep the stu­dent ac­tivists off the streets.

Draw­ing a new char­ter is no sim­ple mat­ter and it is a time-con­sum­ing process.

For one of the six bills, which is backed up by the main op­po­si­tion Pheu Thai Party, the char­ter re­write process by the CDA is ex­pected to take 15 months. The govern­ment ver­sion, ac­cord­ing to some ob­servers, would take at least 24 months to draft.

Ac­cord­ing to a source in the govern­ment, while those in power were re­lieved the Sept 19-20 rally, mo­bilised by the United Front of Tham­masat and Demon­stra­tion (UFTD), was not marred by vi­o­lent con­fronta­tion, there is no guar­an­tee the stu­dent move­ment un­der the UFTD ban­ner will be pre­pared to wait out this process.

The lat­est de­vel­op­ments in par­lia­ment, how­ever, have raised fear of po­lit­i­cal un­rest af­ter the House voted on Thurs­day night to study the amend­ment mo­tions be­fore the MPs and sen­a­tors de­cide whether or not to ac­cept them for scru­tiny.

A com­mit­tee has been set up to con­duct the study, a process which is ex­pected to take a month.

The de­ci­sion to form the com­mit­tee an­gered the pro­test­ers and the op­po­si­tion which was ex­pect­ing par­lia­ment to at least vote the amend­ment mo­tions for scru­tiny.

Pai­boon Ni­titawan, a Palang Pracharath Party MP, ini­ti­ated the pro­posal to set up the com­mit­tee which will com­prise MPs from the coali­tion par­ties and sen­a­tors. The op­po­si­tion re­fused to be part of the panel.

The six mo­tions will be stud­ied for one month be­fore the joint sit­ting re­con­venes in Novem­ber to vote again on whether to ac­cept the mo­tions in their first read­ing.

The study com­mit­tee was crit­i­cised by op­po­nents as a govern­ment tac­tic to put the is­sue of char­ter amend­ment on the back burner.

Se­na­tor Som­jate Boon­thanom has warned the pro­pos­als to amend Sec­tion 256 of the con­sti­tu­tion to re­move the pow­ers of the Se­nate will lead to “a par­lia­men­tary dic­ta­tor­ship”. Also, rewrit­ing or writ­ing a new con­sti­tu­tion should be ap­proved by a ref­er­en­dum to keep the par­lia­ment from tak­ing the mat­ter into its own hands.

Pai­boon: Calls for fur­ther study

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