It took more than two hours for parliamentarians to decide whether the debate on charter amendment should be delayed yesterday, though the result of this discussion went as was expected – the debate will not be postponed. The Opposition has been encouraging the government to hold back on the deliberation until drafts proposed by civic groups are ready for consideration since the signatures are still being verified.
Yet, the parliamentarians voted 341:181 to deliberate the drafts proposed by the Cabinet, Pheu Thai and Chart Thai Pattana parties yesterday.
Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung, who presented the government’s draft to the meeting, defended Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s decision to not expedite charter amendments, saying the lengthy process cannot be changed.
“I guarantee that Article 112 of the Penal Code will not be changed and nobody will be protected,” he said.
Chalerm also asked parliamentarians to not start questioning the amendments because the Constitution Drafting Assembly (CDA) will draft the laws.
The proposed change to the Constitution’s Article 291 states that the CDA will comprise 99 members, of whom 77 will be elected provincial representatives, while the remaining 22 will come from law, political science or the political field or those who already have experience with charter drafting.
“Who knows who will become a member of the CDA?” Chalerm asked.
In response to arguments that there might be a hidden agenda to the charter amendment, he said the ruling Pheu Thai Party had made no secret of its plan to amend the Constitution, which was sponsored by the 2006 coup-makers. As for the alleged plot to bring former PM Thaksin Shinawatra back, Chalerm said that was a separate mission.
“I am straightforward. I will bring Thaksin home but it depends on the opportunity and political situation. I will also propose a reconciliation bill soon,” he said.
Meanwhile, Chart Thai Pattana Party leader Chumpol Silapa-archa, who is contending for a seat in the CDA, said amendments were necessary because there were too many differences between the 1997 and 2007 charters.
“According to the 2007 Constitution, political parties can be dissolved easily. A 35-year-old party was dissolved. Now only a 65-year-old party remains, but I don’t know when that will go,” he said referring to the Democrat Party.
Chumpol is bitter because his previous party Chart Thai was dissolved under the current Constitution’s Article 237, which states that a political party and executives will be penalised if an executive is found cheating in the elections.
He said it was unfair that all executives had to be banned due to one person’s misconduct.
“In case you are worried that the new draft produced by the CDA will be abused for the sake of certain people, a political party or that it has a hidden agenda, then the draft should first be considered in Parliament before it takes effect,” Chumpol said.
According to the proposal, if the Parliament approves the draft, then it must be put forward for royal endorsement before it takes effect or it can be put through a national referendum.
Government chief whip Udomdej Ratanasathien, who presented the Pheu Thai Party’s draft of charter amendment, said the 2007 Constitution had many Articles that weakened the political party system resulting in instability and a disruption in administration of the country.
Democrat MP Banyat Bantadtan said the charter did not pose such a great problem for the country, though the amendments would cause conflict in society. He said that people related to politicians as well as banned MPs should be prohibited from becoming CDA members.
Democrat Tirdpong Jayanandana agreed, saying the Constitution itself was not the problem but depended on the people who used it.
The 1997 Constitution was good and posed no problems when Democrat Chuan Leekpai was PM, he said, adding that problems only arose when independent agencies began interfering during Thaksin’s tenure.
Tirdpong added that it would suffice if certain Articles of the charter were changed.
Nonthaburi senator Direk Teungfang, former chairman of the reconciliation committee, said he has been anticipating a new CDA to rewrite the charter, even though some Articles had been changed as per his panel’s proposals.
He agreed that Article 237 on party dissolution went against the principles of democracy, that it weakened the party system and made the government unstable. He also added that other Articles of the charter, which was a result of the 2006 coup, are undemocratic.
Appointed Senator Prajit Rojanaphruk said it is not true that changes to only one Article were being proposed, adding that the addition of another Chapter of the Constitution was actually meant to topple the current charter. He too proposed that certain Articles be amended.