'Coup makers cannot be above the law'
Speaker Somsak Kiartsuranon says Article 309 of the Charter has to goHouse Speaker Somsak Kiartsuranon told The Nation in an exclusive interview that the Yingluck Shinawatra administration should not sail against public sentiment and must hold a referendum on charter amendments and more. Excerpts:
Q : Do you believe astrologers who predicted that politics will be chaotic next year?
A : I'm not worried that politics will be even more chaotic as things have been hard in this passing year, be it the constitutional amendment or the national reconciliation issue. On charter amendment, it has become clear that the public must be consulted in a referendum. That means taking time explaining without hurry and not forcing it.
As for national reconciliation, the government should apply the same principle as in approaching the charter amendment issue. Let us not believe any fortune-teller, as I have data with me. I believe politics will not be tense next year but since politics is unpredictable, we can never be too sure.
Q : What about the fear that the charter referendum will not be approved by voters?
There's no other good choice except to hold a referendum. I am confident of 50 per cent [voting], in regard to the chance of the referendum to amend the charter being endorsed by the voters. Although [fugitive former premier] Thaksin [Shinawatra] said it would be a piece of cake to have the referendum approved, but my experience suggests otherwise.
It's not going to be easy because the opponents will come up and campaign against it.
The big mystery, however, is whether the government can proceed with charter amendment if a majority of the voters support the amendment but the number of voters falls short of what is required by the referendum law.
Q : Will the referendum result be binding on MPs' decision in regard to charter amendment?
A : As for the government, it will be binding because they have asked the people - [and] if the people say turn left but the government turns right, they must answer to the people. But nothing indicates how the MPs will vote, but MPs, as representatives of the people, will have to answer to the people too.
Q : Do you agree with the view that Section 309 is the heart of the charter amendment?
A : Yes, because it states that coup makers and its network can do no wrong and nothing can be done against them retroactively. This severely goes against democratic principle. Only the King is above the Constitution and no one else has such right to be above the Constitution. Let me ask, if MPs want to put a section in the charter saying they can do no long, are you willing to accept it?
Section 309 has always been used to destroy [the] People's Power Party.
Q : Please analyse why opponents see amending section 309 as being linked to Thaksin?
A : All sides must reduce their stubbornness and personal interests. As for section 309, it has been cited with misgiving. It's untrue that Thaksin will benefit from it and escape from his two-year prison sentence, as charged by the Democrat Party, as legal sentences cannot be undone retroactively.
Q : Are the issues of charter amendment and reconciliation hot potatoes for the government? Will it affect the government's stability?
A : There should be no forcing of the issues. This will be difficult for the opposition to go against. They have called for a referendum, now that it's going to be done, what else can [the opposition] ask? Things won't be rushed this time round. As for the reconciliation bill, it will be considered when it's appropriate.
Q : Do you think a new charter can reduce or solve political conflicts?
A : Political conflicts will not perish no matter what. But we can reduce it to a minimum by adhering to what is right and just. So the charter must be right and just and not enable one side to do whatever and consider it right and vice versa.
Q : When the 2007 charter was being drafted, it was defined as a charter for national reform, what will it be described as this time?
A : The drafting assembly will come from people from throughout the country - 77 from [all provinces] plus 22 [experts] that will never have a defining number of votes. So the 77 drafters who have been selected by the people will be the voices that will truly determine the direction of Thailand. If successful, it will become "the people's constitution", much like the 1997 charter.
Q : How will the next charter look and be democratic?
It's up to the people. Ask a citizen, I expect it not to be against democratic principles and to provide as much chance for people to participate.