Lead­ing play­ers want char­ter amended af­ter next elec­tion



THE JUNTA-SPON­SORED char­ter, which im­poses curbs on politi­cians, re­mains the prime tar­get of big po­lit­i­cal par­ties who aim to re­place it af­ter the elec­tion even though it was en­dorsed in a 2016 na­tional ref­er­en­dum, judg­ing by the com­ments made at a sym­po­sium at­tended by prom­i­nent politi­cians yes­ter­day.

The 2017 Con­sti­tu­tion is an ob­sta­cle to the de­vel­op­ment of democ­racy in Thai­land, agreed three politi­cians at the sym­po­sium, while a fourth dis­agreed. And while the char­ter has stip­u­la­tions that make it dif­fi­cult to amend, the politi­cians were united in say­ing that it should be amended and that mak­ing changes was fea­si­ble if the peo­ple de­sired it.

The sym­po­sium “Thai­land’s Fu­ture Democ­racy: Over­com­ing Traps and Dreams?”was held yes­ter­day at Tham­masat Uni­ver­sity’s Tha Prachan Cam­pus.

For­mer Demo­crat Party prime min­is­ter Abhisit Ve­j­ja­jiva, for­mer Pheu Thai Party min­is­ter Chaturon Chaisang, prom­i­nent new­comer and head of Fu­ture For­ward Party Thanathorn Juan­groon­gru­angkit, and pro­junta politi­cian and head of Peo­ple’s Re­form Party Pai­boon Ni­titawan were the speak­ers.

Abhisit said demo­cratic de­vel­op­ment was be­ing blocked by sev­eral traps – the Con­sti­tu­tion, the or­ganic laws, the junta or­ders and the 250 junta-ap­pointed sen­a­tors.

He said that although the Con­sti­tu­tion was al­ready in place and the coun­try was head­ing to­wards a poll, the rul­ing Na­tional Coun­cil for Peace and Or­der’s (NCPO) or­ders were block­ing the elec­tion road map it had pre­vi­ously cre­ated.

And even if the elec­tion hap­pened, he said, it re­mained un­cer­tain how free and fair it would be given the junta’s ab­so­lute power. In ad­di­tion, af­ter the vot­ing the coun­try would be stuck with a Con­sti­tu­tion that was not demo­cratic, said Abhisit, and with sen­a­tors ap­pointed by the junta.

Thanathorn, a busi­ness­man who re­cently turned politi­cian and is highly favoured by pro­gres­sive young peo­ple, said the coups that had been re­peat­edly staged through­out the coun­try’s mod­ern his­tory were traps that had pre­vented the coun­try from get­ting any­where.

His Fu­ture For­ward Party had there­fore made it their main agenda to stop that cy­cle, he said, pledg­ing to re­store the peo­ple’s faith in the par­lia­men­tary sys­tem.

The party would also bring hope to the coun­try, he said.

“And our party pro­poses that we find a con­sen­sus and strengthen democ­racy,” Thanathorn added. “To do that, we need a su­per­ma­jor­ity in the Lower House and then we will amend the Con­sti­tu­tion and put it to a ref­er­en­dum.”

Pai­boon, who had served in the re­form assem­bly un­der the coup-in­stalled regime and had been sup­port­ive of the NCPO, how­ever ex­pressed scep­ti­cism about elec­tions and im­plied they were not nec­es­sary in a democ­racy.

Re­flect­ing on po­lit­i­cal con­flict and the vi­o­lence that had bro­ken out since the elec­tion of the Thaksin Shi­nawa­tra gov­ern­ment in 2006, Pai­boon ques­tioned whether it was democ­racy.

With elec­tions, the peo­ple only had power for four sec­onds when in the polling booth, he said. But what came af­ter was cor­rupt MPs abus­ing power while cit­ing the peo­ple’s man­date, Pai­boon added.

The cur­rent regime was dis­liked by some peo­ple, Pai­boon said, but would help fix the prob­lems in democ­racy.

He ac­knowl­edged that many peo­ple dis­ap­proved of the NCPO’s legacy, in­clud­ing the 250 sen­a­tors who would be around for five years. But, said Pai­boon, “[You] have to bear with it for five years and you’ll like it.”

In re­sponse, Chaturon said that democ­racy had a checks-and-bal­ances sys­tem to deal with cor­rup­tion. But the process had been blocked by the coups, he said.

Most im­por­tantly, the coups and their legacy had de­stroyed the democ­racy that had been de­vel­op­ing for at least 15 years, dur­ing which vot­ers learned to choose par­ties based on their poli­cies, Chaturon said.

The lat­est coup would leave be­hind a legacy of the Con­sti­tu­tion, re­forms and the na­tional strat­egy, all planned with­out pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion, he said.

“The na­tional strat­egy will be a trap and it will con­tinue to be a trap for the next 20 years,” Chaturon said.

He pro­posed that the Con­sti­tu­tion be amended. Only fair rules could solve the prob­lems fac­ing the coun­try, in­clud­ing po­lit­i­cal con­flict, he said.

Chaturon said it was im­por­tant that prodemoc­racy par­ties made it a point to amend the Con­sti­tu­tion. It should be a pol­icy plank that is cam­paigned on be­fore the elec­tion, he said.

Sub­se­quently both the na­tional re­form and the 20-year strat­egy, which could lead to politi­cians be­ing pun­ished if they refuse to obey them, should also be re­viewed, he added.

Though Abhisit agreed that the Con­sti­tu­tion was prob­lem­atic and needed han­dling, he saw it as per­ilous to vig­or­ously ar­gue the is­sue be­fore elec­tion day.

The pub­lic may be­come scep­ti­cal, won­der­ing if the politi­cians wanted to do that for them­selves and not for pub­lic in­ter­est, he said.

Pai­boon, mean­while, re­minded ev­ery­one that it would not be easy to bring about any amend­ment to the Con­sti­tu­tion. In ad­di­tion to elected MPs, it also needed to be passed by one-third of the sen­a­tors and one-fifth of the op­po­si­tion force, he said.

Oth­ers, how­ever, said that if the peo­ple backed an amend­ment, it could be achieved.

From left, Chaturon Chaisang, Thanathorn Juan­groon­ruangkit, Abhisit Ve­j­ja­jiva, and Pai­boon Ni­titawan – politi­cians likely to be key play­ers in the next elec­tion – yes­ter­day speak at a sem­i­nar on Thai­land’s fu­ture democ­racy at Tham­masat Uni­ver­sity’s Tha Prachan cam­pus.

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