Charter amendment bills sail through after emotion-charged debate

national February 25, 2012 00:00

By Kittipong Thavevong
The Natio

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After two days of heated and emotion-charged debate, a joint parliamentary sitting late on Friday night voted in support of the three bills seeking to amendment the Constitution.

MPs and senators voted 399-199 to pass the three amendment bills, with 14 abstentions.

The voting was done by a roll call and each of the parliamentarians present voted verbally.
The three separate drafts, proposed by the Cabinet, the ruling Pheu Thai Party, and the coalition Chart Thai Pattana Party, seek amendment to Article 291 of the post-coup 2007 Constitution to allow establishment of a constitution drafting assembly.
At least half of the members of the two Houses, or 324, were needed to pass the motion. The government managed to do it with support from many senators and some opposition MPs from the Bhum Jai Thai Party. 
However, Bhum Jai Thai MP Chai Chidchob, formerly the House speaker, abstained, citing “neutrality”, and party spokesman Supachai Jaisamut was absent during the voting.
Most of those who abstained are senators. Many other members of the Upper House voted either for or against the three bills. Government MPs cheered from time to time when a senator voted for the bills.
Many of the senators who voted against are those from the “Group of 40 Senators”, including Bangkok Governor Rosana Tositrakul, Wanchai Sonsiri, Somchai Sawaengkarn, Somjet Boonthanom, and Sak Korsaengruang.
Opposition MP General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, who led the 2006 coup to overthrow the government of Thaksin Shinawatra when he was the Army commander-in-chief, was not present during the voting. 
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and Pheu Thai Party leader Yongyuth Wichaidit, who is a deputy prime minister, did not take part in the debate but they voted in support of the three bills.
After the vote, a 45-member vetting committee was appointed to prepare for the next readings of the amendment bills. The panel consists of 10 senators and 35 MPs – 19 from Pheu Thai, 11 from Democrat Party, two from Bhum Jai Thai, and one each from Chart Thai Pattana, Chart Pattana, and Palang Chon. The first committee meeting was scheduled for next Wednesday (Feb 29).
The government whips proposed that the vetting would focus mainly on the Cabinet draft. 
Pheu Thai MP Cholnan Srikaew proposed that the vetting complete its work within 15 days, but Democrat MP Boonyod Sukthinthai suggested that the time should be extended to 30 days. Cholnan later agreed to drop his proposal.
The meeting’s chair, Parliament president and House speaker Somsak Kiartsuranond, declared the meeting closed shortly after 1 am on Saturday.
The second and final day of the parliamentary debate on Friday was largely peaceful despite a heated debate and some protests. It was marred by two brief suspensions ordered by the meeting’s chair, Senate speaker Thiradej Meepien.  
The first suspension took place in the afternoon after Pheu Thai MP and red-shirt leader Jatuporn Promphan and Democrat MP Suthep Thaugsuban started exchanging heated arguments about the 2010 political unrest. 
The second suspension was ordered at night after turmoil when Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung interrupted opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva’s closing speech and Chalerm was accused by Democrat woman MP Rangsima Rodrasami of attending the meeting while drunk. Chalerm denied he was drunk and joked that he was just “intoxicated by love”.

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