Pheu Thai considers options on charter

national July 15, 2012 00:00

By The Nation on Sunday

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Party to meet tomorrow; will consider change to Article 68, that lets Constitution Court directly accept a petition direct from public

The ruling Pheu Thai Party will meet tomorrow to chart its next course of action following the Constitution Court’s ruling on Friday that its planned wholesale rewrite of the charter is unconstitutional.

The court said a national referendum should be held if the charter is to be rewritten entirely through the setting-up of a Constitution Drafting Assembly (CDA).
Meanwhile, Opposition chief whip Jurin Laksanawisit insisted that opposition MPs would boycott Parliament if Pheu Thai and other government MPs defy the court’s order and continue to push for the third reading of the charter amendment bill.
Reacting to the court’s verdict, Pheu Thai Party deputy spokesman Jirayu Huangsap said the party thinks Article 68 of the charter should be amended first to bar the court from accepting petitions directly from the general public.
His remark followed the court’s statement on Friday that it had jurisdiction to accept petitions directly, even though pro-government critics earlier insisted that all petitions must be screened first by the Office of the Attorney-General.
“The verdict of the Constitution Court is not clear. Pheu Thai Party is ready to comply with the verdict but the party’s official action will be announced after a meeting tomorrow,” Jirayu said. “The party has three possible options: go ahead with the third and final reading of the charter amendment bill; go for a public referendum; or amend only some articles of the charter,” he said.
Opposition chief whip Jurin said the Constitution Court’s verdict was clearly worded and said that rewriting the charter entirely could not be done without holding a national referendum.
So, if the government still went ahead with a third reading of the charter amendment bill, the Opposition would not vote, because the government action would be against the law.
“I think the government should end the political conflict by dropping the charter amendments issue and performing the true duty of the government – solving economic problems or preventing floods, which are really the people’s problems,” Jurin said. 
Parliament had been scheduled on June 5 to consider the third reading of a change to Article 291 of the Constitution to set up the CDA for a complete rewrite of the 2007 charter.
Deputy government spokesperson Anusorn Iamsa-ard said that in his opinion, the Constitution Court had no power to rule on how to change Article 291.
Former Thai Rak Thai caretaker party leader Chaturon Chaisang said at a press conference yesterday he supported the Pheu Thai charter amendment bill.
He said the government could either hold a national referendum before or after passing the third reading of the Article 291 amendment, or after a CDA finished drafting a new charter.
Chaturon said that according to the Constitution, the ruling of the court was binding on all agencies. Therefore, irrespective of whether Pheu Thai Party accepts the ruling, it had to comply with it. 
Former Senate Speaker Suchon Chaleekrua, now a Pheu Thai member, said: “The ruling has set a precedent on the court’s authority. In amending the charter, it might be necessary that Article 68 concerning the issue of the court’s jurisdiction must also be altered.”
Article 68 of the Constitution prohibits overthrowing the constitutional monarchy system or any attempt to acquire power with any means other than what has been indicated in the current Constitution. A controversial point of the law is whether the Constitution Court can accept a case filed directly or whether the case must be filed first with the Office of the Attorney-General.
Former deputy chairman of the 2007 Constitution Drafting Committee Chuchai Supawong said it was the will of the Constitution that allowed the Constitution Court to directly accept a petition, and not necessarily through the Office of the Attorney-General.
“The right to protect the Constitution is not only from a military coup but also from parliamentary dictatorship or any means. Therefore, people should listen to the court’s advice carefully and without bias,” said Chuchai, who is also an adviser of the Office of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand.

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