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Charter 'to be ready in 1-2 years'

Varathep says constitution could be rewritten promptly, if it gets nod from public

Thailand could have a new constitution in less than two years if the amendment process goes as planned, according to a minister who is part of a working group appointed by the Cabinet to study relevant laws for holding a public referendum on charter changes.

PM's Office Minister Varathep Ratanakorn said: "Between a little over one year to no more than two years, we will certainly see a new constitution."

His remark came as the opposition Democrat Party was campaigning against writing an entirely new constitution, which they described as an attempt to help former premier Thaksin Shinawatra out of legal problems in many corruption cases filed against him after the coup of 2006.

Thaksin's government was ousted in the coup led by then-Army chief General Sonthi Boonyaratglin.

Varathep said his working group would spend one month studying relevant laws and the process of holding a plebiscite. Another four months would be spent on holding the referendum.

Then, he said, Parliament would vote to pass the constitutional amendment bill in a third reading, which has been suspended due to a legal battle between proponents and opponents of the rewrite.

Varathep expected the election of Constitution Drafting Council members to be completed within 120 days, and the CDA to write a new constitution within 240 days.

His remark was made during yesterday's weekly programme "Yingluck Government Meets the People", which is broadcast every Saturday via state media.

He said voters in the referendum were likely to be asked whether changes should be made to the entire constitution.

Varathep's working group is chaired by Justice Minister Pracha Promnok. It also includes Interior Minister Charupong Ruangsuwan, Education Minister Phongthep Thepkanjana, and Atchaporn Charuchinda, secretary-general of the Council of State, which is the government's legal advisory agency.

Pracha said in the show that the government would campaign to "create a good understanding that the constitutional amendment is not aimed at benefiting any person in particular".

He expected the working group to complete its work in January.

Other figures from the ruling Pheu Thai Party yesterday called on the Democrats not to campaign for no-show of eligible voters at the referendum.

Some Democrat figures asked supporters not to vote, in order to make the turnout less than half of eligible voters, which will cause the referendum to be ineffective in accordance with the Constitution.

Pheu Thai spokeswoman Sunisa Lertpakawat said Democrats should "move past" Thaksin and stop acting as a drag on national progress, particularly over changes to the post-coup constitution, which she blamed for political conflict over the past five years.

But Opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva warned yesterday that amending the charter with the goal of "helping the convicted man with his legal cases" would lead to more conflict. He said the government should review its stance on the matter.

"The government should instead focus on other problems."




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