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SPECIAL REPORT

Ball in charter court over special session

THE CONSTITUTIONAL Court may be asked to rule on the dispute between the government and the Senate over the opening of a special parliamentary session, after the Council of State suggested that the Cabinet does not have the authority to call a special session for the Senate to impeach officials.

First Deputy Senate Speaker Surachai Liengboonlertchai said yesterday that it was now uncertain if the Senate could call a meeting on April 18 as it had planned.

If the Cabinet agreed with the legal adviser's opinion and insisted on not holding the meeting, the Senate may turn to the Constitutional Court for a clarification of the issue.

The Senate early this month asked caretaker Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to issue a Royal Decree for a special parliamentary session on April 18 to act on three important agenda items.

They are: consider the impeachment of former Senate Speaker Nikom Wairatpanij on the charge of unlawfully chairing the parliamentary session amending the charter's provisions on the make-up of the Senate; endorse a National Anti-Corruption Commission member to replace Jaided Pornchaiya who has retired, and appoint Supreme Administrative Court specialists.

Under Article 132 of the Constitution, during a House recess, the Senate cannot hold a session unless there are pressing tasks such as the appointment of members to independent organisations.

The Senate's request was referred by the government to the Council of State, which on Friday resolved that the special parliamentary session cannot be called for the Senate to carry out these tasks.

Pichit Chuenban, a legal specialist for the Pheu Thai Party, said Article 132 did not specify how the Senate should go about holding a meeting if the House is in recess, so the law has to be interpreted strictly according to organic laws.

Senator Paiboon Nititawan claimed that the Thaksin administration had set a precedent back in 2006 when it dissolved the House and the Senate needed to appoint election commissioners.

At that time, Thaksin issued a Royal Decree for a special parliamentary session for the Senate on September 8, 2006. The Senate appointed replacements for EC members who were sentenced to prison for malfeasance in favouring the Thai Rak Thai Party.

Thaksin relied on Article 168 of the Constitution of 1997, which has the same content as Article 132 of the 2007 charter regarding calling a special parliamentary session when the House is in recess or is dissolved.

Government strategy

The government apparently wants to block the Senate from getting involved in the final round of the "political game" by rendering it unable to function.

This issue of not calling a special parliamentary session has nothing to do with the endorsement of new senators. Even if the EC endorses up to 95 per cent of the senators-elect, as long as less than 95 per cent of MPs are endorsed as required by the charter to open a House session, the Senate cannot call a working meeting.

If the government refuses the Senate's request to conduct a session, it is likely that the Constitutional Court will have to put the matter to rest. In the government's view, as long as there is no House session, a Senate session is not possible.


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