Monday, October 12, 2009

Thailand Government Faces Strong Opposition Against Charter Amendments

The politicians proposed charter amendments on ground that the enforcement of the 2007 Constitution led to problems and conflicts that could cause severe damages to the country. The parliamentarians said some of the problems were caused by some articles and their enforcement so they set up the reconciliation panel to study how to improve the charter. The reconciliation committee in return proposed that the some articles of the Constitution should be amended urgently to reduce the atmosphere of rifts so that reconciliation and political reform could be done in the long run.

Pros and Cons of Proposed Charter Amendments
However, several sides studied the pros and cons of the proposed charter amendments and saw that the Constitution has been enforced for only two years and several articles have not yet been enforced to achieve the full benefits for the public yet. So, they saw that the Constitution should not be amended now. And they saw that the abolition of the second paragraph of Article 237, which requires a party to be dissolved if its executive buys votes, will worsen the vote-buying. The opponents of charter amendments believe that the abolition of the party-dissolution penalty would prompt political parties and executives to blatantly buy votes.

Inerference of Parliamentarians
And the abolition of Articles 265 and 266 would allow parliamentarians to interfere in permanent officials' administration of the country's affairs. This will allow corruption at the policy level and conflicts of interest to happen. And the plan to elect all senators like in the previous charter would turn the Senate into a chamber of slaves of politicians or change it to be chamber of spouses of MPs.

There were also disputes on the need to amend Article 190 of the Constitution. Critics question the need to amend it because the article does not require all types of contracts to be subjected to Parliament for approval. However, the article states that the types of contracts required to be approved by Parliament must be stated in the organic law. And the government and Parliament can change the organic law without having to amend Article 190 as a result the proposal to amend this article was seen as a pretext to have other articles amended.

So far, there are no impartial persons to consider the reasons of the proponents and opponents of charter amendments. But the charter amendments have become a political tool for bargaining between the government and the opposition as well as bargaining inside the Phuea Thai Party itself.

Now that Phuea Thai MP Chaloem Yubamrung has received an order from former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to withdraw the Phuea Thai's support for the charter amendments, it led to a doubt as to how achieve reconciliation.

Charter amendments were initially seen as a door that would open to political reconciliation. But now this last door to lead the country out of the political crisis has been nail shut.

The stand of the Phuea Thai to be opposed to the six charter amendments appears to support the stand of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD). The PAD announced that it would hold a mass rally if MPs and senators amend the Constitution.

The PAD definitely planned systematic moves against the charter amendments. Earlier, it sent Dr Tun Sitthisomwong, a lecturer of Chulalongkorn University, to file a complaint with the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) to take legal action against MPs and senators who signed their name in support of a charter amendment motion.

The PAD also has a contingency measure. If the NACC is too slow to act against the MPs and senators, the PAD will file a complaint to the full bench of Supreme Court judges to investigate the MPs and senators. In this case, the MPs and senators will be charged in the Supreme Court's Criminal Division of Holders of Political Office.

Fast-Track Measure
Filing a suit in the Supreme Court's Criminal Division of Holders of Political Office would be a fast-track measure against those who trade their interests with charter amendments on ground that they violate Article 122 of the Constitution.

After the situation changed, the PAD-led yellow-shirt people and the Phuea Thai, which supports the red-shirt people, have found a common stand after the two sides have been fiercely fighting against each other. But the two sides may have different motives for their opposition to the charter amendments. It has yet to be seen how the two enemies will find a way to cooperate their fights against the amendments.

After the situation has changed, only the coalition partners are left to make a decision whether to proceed with the charter amendments.

Now, the question is not whether a public referendum should be held or not but the question is whether the coalition partners will really go ahead with the amendments.

The Phuea Thai demanded that the 1997 charter be reinstated to replace the 2007 Constitution. The demand is backed up by the call of the red-shirt people who seek amnesty for all political offences following the 2006 coup. The red-shirt people also call on the government to return the ruling mandate to the people by holding a new election. They have been making campaigns outside Parliament for all of these demands.

Now that the situation has changed, it is worrying that the campaigns outside Parliament will grow more violent to try to push for a change to the political power. The concern came up after the red-shirt people announced that they will hold another mass rally in October and this rally will be a prolonged one.

As a result, the government could only wait and see how the situation will unfold regarding to the charter amendments because it will definitely face strong opposition to the amendments.

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