Charter rewrite still confounds govt
It seems the "big boss", the coalition, the Pheu Thai Party and the red-shirt movement have tried to create new hot issues to divert public attention from the plan to rewrite a new charter.The clearest effort to divert public attention was the plan by the Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship to propose an amnesty bill for the people facing criminal charges related to political conflict from January 1, 2007 to December 2011. The DAAD planned to submit the draft to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to endorse and forward it to the House. The DAAD said the bill would also grant amnesty to other groups, not only the red shirts.
In a similar move, the Nitirat Group proposed that the current Constitution should be amended to add a new chapter on amnesty and on how to end political conflicts. The group proposed that this new chapter would absolve all groups of wrongdoings stemming from political rallies following September 19, 2006.
It seemed these ideas came up after the plan by the Pheu Thai and the coalition government to push for the rewriting of a new charter met severe obstacles and could not move on.
Earlier, the Pheu Thai thought a public referendum would provide a solution for the coalition to go ahead with the new charter drafting. But the big boss and Pheu Thai have found that a referendum would not help the coalition reach its goal. Worse still, the charter rewriting effort might cause the government to collapse.
Eventually, the government decided to buy time and delay the charter rewrite by assigning a new committee to study how to hold a public referendum on the charter amendments. The Cabinet assigned Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Phongthep Thepkanjana to head the panel, whose members include PM's Office Minister Varathep Ratanakorn, Interior Minister Charupong Ruangsuwan, Justice Minister Pracha Promnok and the secretary-general of the Office of the Council of State.
So far, the Pongthep panel has been unable to give a clear-cut timeframe for its study. In the latest development, the panel consulted with representatives of the Election Commission on Friday on legal technicalities relating to the public referendum. The panel asked the EC representatives to ask the full EC five questions. It is expected the EC would answer the questions in another month after studying the legal aspects. This would further delay the referendum plan.
It prompted several sides, including the opposition, to suspect that the coalition is planning to use the EC as a tool, or that the coalition might be seeking a way to cancel the referendum plan without losing face.
Phongthep argued that the EC had to be consulted for the sake of clarity because "the government has never held such a referendum. And the EC will be the one to hold the referendum".
It seemed that the government was hesitating and lacked determination on the new charter rewrite. It was understandable why the government appeared so - it is because the referendum outcome could determine the government's survival.
The planned charter rewrite has become a hot issue that has raised the political mercury because several groups have expressed clear signals that they would come out to campaign against the charter amendments.
As a result, the government has had second thoughts and moved cautiously, as its survival is at stake.
The opponents may seek an impeachment motion against the government and may even seek Pheu Thai's dissolution. So, no one dares to rush to get the charter amendments done in a way that could lead to a political accident.
Moreover, the government is now facing several problems that could erode its image and affect its stability.
Such problems include the battle for the land surrounding the Preah Vihear Temple, currently being waged at the International Court of Justice.
Moreover, the government is facing negative economic impacts from its Bt300 daily minimum wage policy.
And its populist schemes are causing severe fiscal pressures on the administration. Worse still, the people are facing the problem of a rising cost of living while crop prices are falling and affecting poor farmers.
There are also problems of alleged corruption in various projects and flood prevention and rehabilitation measures, and allegedly increasing corruption in the rice-pledging scheme.
Now the government is in a critical situation and is besieged by all the problems. So Pheu Thai has apparently decided it cannot push ahead the plan to draft and enact a new charter. It cannot step back, either. As a result, the only option is to indefinitely postpone the issue until the timing is right.