Sonthi issues guidelines for new charter
CNS chief makes five key proposals as drafting process begins today
Coup leader General Sonthi Boonyaratglin yesterday announced a set of guidelines for the new constitution ahead of today's National People's Assembly convention.
The NPA will start the process of selecting nominees for a constituent assembly to draft a new charter, the 1997 constitution having been tossed out in the wake of the September 19 military putsch.
Sonthi said it was his duty to give some suggestions, such as restricting a premier to serving a maximum of two terms of office, though he denied that the military had any scheme to cling to power.
"The process of framing a constitution is a tough job for the drafters. They have to think of how to make Thai politics free and fair," Sonthi told a seminar on the future of Thailand at the Army Club.
He blamed deposed premier Thaksin Shinawatra for distorting the spirit of the 1997 constitution and plunging the country into a political crisis, leaving the Army with no choice but to intervene.
"Should the government's status end once the House is dissolved?" Sondhi asked, answering that it should not carry on as a caretaker administration. He apparently referred to the Thaksin government, which served in a caretaker capacity for seven months, from the House dissolution in February until the coup.
Sondhi, also chief of the most powerful ruling body, the Council for National Security (CNS), proposed that the permanent secretaries of each ministry should take care of daily administration until a new government assumed power.
In this way government politicians will not be able to abuse their power to gain an advantage over other parties in an election, he said.
During Thaksin's five-year reign the opposition could not "touch" him through the parliamentary process, as it could not gather enough support from House members. A censure motion against the premier needed the backing of 200 of the House's 500 MPs, while 100 MPs were needed to censure a minister, according to the 1997 charter.
"An attempt to launch a censure debate against the prime minister ought to be much easier," Sonthi said, adding that a no-confidence motion against the prime minister should require the sponsorship of the same number of MPs as one against a minister.
"Should the prime minister's terms be limited to two?" Sonthi asked.
He appeared to refer to Thaksin's grip on power. Under his leadership, the Thai Rak Thai Party won three general elections, in 2001, 2005 and 2006. By Sonthi's guidelines, the deposed premier would not have been allowed to run for election for a third time. Thaksin vowed to rule the country for 20 years.
Sonthi questioned the role of senators under the defunct charter, who were supposed to perform vital checks and balances on the government and the House. However, the Senate, whose members were elected, turned out to be filled with husbands, wives, brothers and sisters of politicians in those camps, he said.
"Should the Senate be entirely elected as in recent elections, given that the elections led to such results?" Sonthi asked.
The controversial clause of the 1997 charter which required any candidate for the House to belong to a single political party for 90 days before the registration date for the election, also caught Sonthi's attention.
Thaksin was alleged to have relied on the rule to zip his Thai Rak Thai members' lips because he could oust "disobedient" members from the party, leaving them with not enough time to hold the 90-day membership of a new party.
Sonthi also wondered if mergers of political parties should be banned.
Thaksin was accused of exploiting a loophole in the charter to take over small parties during the early years of his administration in order to strengthen his clout.
The NPA will meet until Wednesday at the Navy Auditorium to pick 200 of its 1,982 members as nominees for the Constitution Drafting Assembly.
The list of nominees will be submitted to the CNS, which will then choose 100 to form the drafting assembly.
"I will strictly abide by the principles of selection to pick the best people to write the charter," Sonthi said.
The regulations of the drafting process will be approved as a royal decree soon, he said, and until that time the public will know that the CNS has done everything transparently.
"We don't have any intention of staying on longer, as critics have alleged," he added.