July 24, 2014 00:00 By SOMROUTAI SAPSOMBOON
NCPO chief will have control over PM and Cabinet; new instructions provided document for drafting new constitution
BEFORE THE promulgation of the provisional constitution, people might have expected to pay attention to what a National Legislative Assembly (NLA), a National Reform Council and a Constitution Drafting Committee would look like.
However, now that we have seen the provisional charter, the power of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) is worthy of more attention.
Most people who have read the charter agree that it hands absolute power to NCPO chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha. He will have power over the prime minister – as well as over the cabinet, regardless of whether he assumes the post of PM himself.
The power of the NCPO chief is clearly seen in Article 44, which states:
“In case the NCPO chief sees the need for the sake of reform in different issues, to promote national unity and reconciliation, to prevent, stop or suppress any conduct that is a threat to peace and order or the security of the monarchy, economy or the state – no matter if it takes place within or outside the Kingdom – the NCPO chief, with the approval of the NCPO, can order to stop or order any conduct, no matter if it has an effect as administrative, legislative or judicial conduct.
“The conduct and the consequences following the order should be deemed legal and final according to this Constitution. However, after making the order, the NCPO chief must inform the National Legislative Assembly chairman and the prime minister quickly.”
Such content is actually derived from what is known as “Article 17” of the 1959 Constitution, which was promulgated in the era of Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat, and in effect appears in other constitutions, although the person holding such power was the prime minister in those instances.
The 1959, 1972, 1976 and 1977 charters gave this power to the prime minister, saying the person in this position should possess it so that there could be decisive and quick moves to solve problems.
The 1991 Constitution also stipulated this power, but allowed it be co-exercised by the PM and the chief of the National Peacekeeping Council.
While there is still no NLA, Prayuth holds the sovereign power.
In addition to Article 44 of the new provisional charter, the NCPO has more power than previous coup-makers.
For example, the NCPO has the power to select the members of the NLA and the National Reform Council. It can also nominate the chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee, as well as five other members.
It can propose charter amendment and have a joint meeting with the cabinet to discuss issues related to national security.
Under this constitution, the NCPO can also give orders to the cabinet, and can propose the removal of the prime minister.
Besides the power of the NCPO, the provisional charter unprecedentedly contains instructions for the drafting of a new constitution.
Among the 10 specifications are corruption-prevention measures, as well as the control of the use of state power.
It strictly prohibits “cheaters” – that is, people who have been convicted in corruption cases or for electoral fraud – from taking political office.
The charter also says the government’s spending must be for sustainable and fair development purposes. It can be seen here that the wording prevents so-called populist policies.
NCPO legal adviser Wissanu Krea-ngam said the guidelines were necessary so that there would not be any drafting of a new constitution in a way that led to “waste”.
The provisional charter says the Constitution Drafting Committee must complete its work within 120 days, but it did not say if the new charter would require a national referendum.
On the power of His Majesty the King, previous provisional constitutions stated that the King had the power to issue a Royal Decree. This charter, however, adds the power to grant amnesty, as well as other powers according to Thai tradition in the constitutional monarchy system.
Wissanu said the newly promulgated provisional charter might be stricter and longer than others of its kind, but it was “the headwater of the five rivers”: the NLA, the Cabinet, the National Reform Council, the Constitution Drafting Committee and the NCPO.
After all, this is the beginning of the “second-phase road map” of the NCPO’s work. We are yet to see how it will lead to the third phase, which is a general election.