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New charter must promise swift return to democracy

The National Council for Peace and Order's interim charter is expected to be reminiscent of charters proclaimed by previous coup-makers, considering the country has experienced 14 successful coups to date.

Once promulgated, about 50 provisions are up for dissection by legal experts and political observers. Major concerns will be centred on how the interim charter affects the basic rights of the people and whether it will successfully guide the country along the NCPO's roadmap to democracy.

NCPO legal advisory chief Wissanu Krea-ngam, who completed the draft of the interim Constitution, said his team had adapted some charter provisions used by previous military coup leaders to suit the present situation and the NCPO's roadmap.

It is believed that among the key points will be a provision giving the NCPO the power to appoint and control the Cabinet and the prime minister, and a provision giving amnesty to the NCPO by setting out the reasons why they took control of the country. What should not be missing is a commitment to restore a democratically elected government within a specific timeframe.

The charter will also include the power structure of the National Legislative Assembly and the Reform Council, both of which are tasked with revamping laws and reforming all state sectors.

A closely scrutinised provision is believed to be the one that stipulates the NCPO will be in charge of an interim government. Previous coup leaders put this mechanism in place to command the Cabinet.

However, even though the 2006 coup leader General Sonthi Boonyaratglin appointed Privy Councillor General Surayud Chulanont as PM, the charter did not allow him to be in command of the Surayud government.

NCPO chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha reportedly wants to have absolute control over the Cabinet to ensure the success of his mission, which is to bring about national reconciliation and democratic rule.

The interim government is expected to handle several sensitive issues that will determine the NCPO's success or failure, including deciding whether to hold a public referendum on the new constitution to be drafted by the National Legislative Assembly.

The move to have the charter draft subjected to a public referendum has met with opposition by conservatives who argue that this is not the path to true democracy. This may result in the country's future top law being opposed once details of the laws are put to debate.

During the initial stage, the charter may face little resistance. The pressure to have it amended may rise later.

The NCPO will have to tread carefully and strike a balance to ensure that the National Legislative Assembly designs a "sophisticated" document and the Reform Council brings about change that can truly return happiness to the people.

The knack is to avoid people with extreme political ideologies playing a significant role in the process but to allow people from diverse sections of the community who have varied opinions to join forces to draft it. This would help bridge the political divisions deeply rooted in the country.

An example of the NCPO's actions that may not help bridge the divide is the latest mass bureaucratic reshuffles, which has left society in doubt over its motivation. Although Prayuth has stated that the move was not aimed at bullying bureaucrats but to create suitability, society needs more justified and clearer reasons for actions that have a huge impact.


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