Thumbs down for the next charter
Legal, other experts slam drafting process and warn public not to expect political reforms
Thammasat University Law Faculty deputy dean Assoc Prof Prasit Pivavatnapanich speaks at the ‘Constitution Drafting Assembly from Sarit Dhanarajata’s Days to the Council for National Security’s Time’ seminar organised by Friends of the 1997 Constitution.
The constitution-drafting process is a "joke" and will not lead to political reform, legal experts and civil rights activists declared yesterday.
The public will soon realise the new charter will benefit only coup leaders, the elite, and technocrats, and not the majority, they asserted.
Union for Civil Liberties secretary-general Pirote Polpetch told a public gathering at Thammasat University yesterday that the most important factor would be control of public information.
Broadcast news media under the new constitution is likely to remain in the hands of the State and those sympathetic to it, he said.
"The news media has proven to be the best political tool for people in power to oppress opponents," Pirote said. "A constitution to be written by technocrats and other coup leaders' 'yes' men will not delegate the airwaves to serve the public interest."
How the charter holds politicians accountable to the law and the people they represent is another key issue, Pirote said.
He noted that the 1997 People's Constitution made it difficult to launch investigations into corrupt politicians, too.
"The Thaksin regime brought failure to the accountability system, and political reform must seriously address this. We need a new process in which people can directly take politicians to court without having to work through bureaucratic red tape."
Federation for Democracy chairman Weng Tojirakarn called the constitution-drafting process a "joke".
Coup leaders are in full control, he said.
"The constitution is a joke drafted by a council of puppets," Weng said. "Most of the council members are bureaucrats who have been selected by an undemocratic process. For example, the selection of the 200 drafters from 1,982 candidates was not held by secret ballot. How can those who agree to such a process produce a democratic charter?"
Thammasat University's Law Faculty deputy dean, Assoc Prof Prasit Pivavatnapanich, agreed a new charter would not result in meaningful political reform because technocrats and legal experts would dominate the drafting process and kow tow to the power of the coup leaders.
"It's the nature of technocrats to work for whoever is in power, not the people," he said.
"Even though there is a referendum process for people to decide if they accept a new charter a 'no' answer will not mean anything because the junta is in power and can dust off an old charter and impose that," Prasit said.
People should not be surprised to see few mechanisms to ensure public involvement in the legislative process.
Pirote said the new charter would continue to place legislation-writing power in the hands of the government and Parliament.
Absent too will be mechanisms giving people a say in public policy and decision-making over mega-projects as well as natural-resource management, he added.
National Human Rights Commissioner Jaran Ditthapichai - who recently formed the Friends of the 1997 Constitution Group - encouraged people to "wake up" from the illusion "men in uniform" had rescued them from political and social turmoil.
"I cannot agree to have someone call himself a man of morality and sufficiency if he built a fancy house in a forest reserve," Jaran said.
He said since the New Year's Eve bombings it was clear the Council for National Security (CNS) had no intention of returning democracy to Thailand within one year as promised.
"Prolonged martial law, the attempt to control the news media and other violations of civil rights and liberties all point to the fact that the coup leaders enjoy their power and want to hang on to it," Jaran said.
Friends of the 1997 Constitution concludes that the best solution is to halt the charter-drafting and hold an immediate election using the 1997 Constitution.
But Pirote wants it to continue so the public learns by "disappointment" that it must stop trusting people in power to have all the answers.
Meanwhile, former prime minister Chuan Leekpai said yesterday that there should be no room on the 35-member core Constitution Drafting Committee for those who merely want a position of note and treat the job as a hobby.
"This is a difficult mission and [the drafters] have to be devoted over the six months [designated for drafting the charter]. Those who really have no time to devote should avoid this job. This is not a hobby that you can do when you have free time from your day job," Chuan said.
The Democrat Party's chief adviser said drafters should have excellent knowledge of Thailand's democratic development and its 17 past constitutions.
He said the flaws and strengths of those charters should be studied for ideas in writing the latest one.
Chuan disagreed with a proposal that a particular constitution should be referred to when drafting the new one.
The 100-member Constitution Drafting Assembly will select 25 members of the drafting committee and the CNS will appoint 10 others.
Democrat Party spokesman Ong-art Klampaiboon warned the CNS not to appoint people with connections to the "old power clique" or those not trusted by the public.