Charter amendment is legal : Attorney General

national June 08, 2012 00:00

By The Nation

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Changes not aimed at overthrow of political system; fiery debate looms

The Attorney General’s Office said yesterday that government-sponsored bills to amend the Constitution were not aimed at overthrowing the political system, as has been alleged in petitions filed separately by five groups of people.

Winai Damrongmongkolkul, a spokesman for the agency, told a press conference last night the Attorney-General decided not to forward the petitions to the Constitution Court. “The amendment bills will not result in changes to the political system that are unconstitutional,” he said.
But the agency’s decision would not interfere with decisions by any other agency or organisation, the spokesman said. This referred to the Constitution Court’s decision last week to accept for judicial review five petitions filed directly with the court. 
Confrontation between proponents and opponents of constitutional amendment is expected to flare up again at today’s joint sitting of the two Houses in Parliament.
There are signs that government MPs will defy a Constitution Court order to postpone a parliamentary vote on the final reading of the bill for charter changes, pending a court ruling on the draft. A hearing on this is scheduled to begin early next month.
Politicians in the ruling coalition say that the court has no power to suspend the legislative process – a viewpoint strongly disputed by the Constitution Court president, Wasant Soypisut, who has insisted on the judges’ authority under the charter and their neutrality.
The atmosphere in Parliament could be highly charged, as the ruling Pheu Thai Party has reportedly assigned some 20 MPs to question the court’s order, amid claims that it amounts to judicial interference into the administrative and legislative branches.
On the opposition bench, the Democrat Party has threatened to fight against any move viewed as an attempt to absolve former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his cohorts of wrongdoings. Democrat MPs aggressively protested against the Speaker during last week’s Lower House meeting, which resulted in postponement of a debate on the four controversial reconciliation bills.

At today’s joint meeting between the Senate and the House of Representatives, a vote on the constitutional amendment bill – postponed from Tuesday – is not on the meeting agendas, which include approving the government’s treaties with foreign countries and organisations.

However, House Speaker Somsak Kiartsuranond, who also doubles as the Parliament president, is expected to inform the meeting about the court decision to accept for judicial review the petitions against the proponents of writing a new constitution.
Five groups of people filed separate petitions with the court, accusing the Cabinet, the coalition Pheu Thai and Chart Thai Pattana parties, and their politicians of attempting to overturn the country’s political system by proposing amendment bills to allow drafting of a new constitution.
Coalition whips have pointed to the likelihood of some MPs asking the parliamentarians to decide if they will vote to accept the charter change bill without waiting for the court ruling. 
Sources said yesterday it was likely government MPs would push for a joint sitting of the two Houses to be held next Tuesday so a voting on the third reading can be carried out.
Meanwhile, red-shirt supporters of the government yesterday stepped up their impeachment campaign against the Constitution Court judges. Reds chairwoman Thida Thawornseth delivered a passionate speech to kick-start the rally at Parliament aiming to oust judges on the top court.
“A round of applause for the people today for refusing to bow down to extra-constitutional power, be it tanks, bullets or the scales of justice,” she said in a punchline concluding her speech.
Thida said the red shirts deemed it necessary to rally because of an unprecedented move to stage a coup not by the military but by the Constitution Court. She said the high court was a disgrace to the judiciary and a disappointment to the people because the judges were trying to invoke the law against, instead of for the people.
The high court had interpreted the charter provisions without any justification, with the aim to usurp power, a form of judicial coup, she claimed, in reference to the court order to suspend the passage of the charter change bill. The power to change or not to change the charter, was vested in the people not the judiciary or any other agencies, she said.

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