Govt's approach to charter change to be slow, cautious
The ruling Pheu Thai Party will not risk its political stability over the |charter rewrite and the fate of the 2007 Constitution is to remain in a state of flux for the government's remaining term in office.Pheu Thai remains committed to overhauling the charter's provisions. But it will bring about change only if and when it feels assured that the amendments will not backfire and trigger the government's downfall.
The upside for deferring charter change is that this year will not see turbulence triggered by the debate.
The downside is that Pheu Thai and its red-shirt allies are bound to face a growing schism despite attempts to mask their differences.
At the conclusion of his party's two-day seminar over the weekend in Nakhon Ratchasima, Pheu Thai secretary-general Phumtham Wechayachai agreed to a delay from 45 to 60 days to allow time for academics to review the next move on amending the Constitution.
Even if the academics can complete their report before the deadline and there is no further delay, it is unlikely that the charter rewrite, regardless of which option is chosen, will be activated this year because of the cumbersome preparations.
Should the rewrite commence next year, the completion of the draft plus the necessary referendum would occur in 2015.
That timing would coincide with an election year, and it is unclear whether the government would be willing to confront two challenges, its re-election bid and its push for promulgating the new Constitution, at the same time.
A realistic and safe date to amend the charter might be in the government's second term rather than this year or next.
The opposition movement, including the Democrats and the People's Alliance for Democracy, will rely on litigation as a key weapon to derail charter amendments.
A legal setback, if it happens, would not just affect the rewriting process but would yield dire consequences for Pheu Thai. The party could be penalised by disbandment.
Pheu Thai's best legal minds spent months weighing various options but could not find a risk-free solution.
In the first scenario, the ruling party could force a vote on the final passage of the charter amendment bill, paving a way for the formation of the Constitution Drafting Assembly.
MP and red-shirt leader weng Tojirakarn has strongly supported the vote. If he had his way, the charter would have already been rewritten.
After the Constitution Court's July ruling on the bill, Pheu Thai found with dismay that it could not muster sufficient votes in the Senate. The party would have to wait four to six years for the upper chamber to turn over a new leaf.
This is the main reason Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has switched to favour the route for a referendum.
Under the second scenario, Pheu Thai would hold the referendum to consult and seek the voters' consent ahead of amending the Constitution.
Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra is optimistic that there would be no problem in mustering some 24 million votes needed for a referendum victory. But a large number of Pheu Thai strategists have serious doubts.
In past elections,?? Referendums?? the ruling party won no more than 15 million votes.
For the third scenario, Pheu Thai could opt for amending the charter by provision in lieu of an overhaul. This would be cumbersome and could trigger a never-ending storm when each contentious issue comes up for debate.
Given its popularity, Pheu Thai may be right in seeing time on its side. But the question is whether the red shirts would be willing to allow the ruling party to seize up on charter change.