Revising law on dissolution key to charter change
The Pheu Thai Party seeks a master key to unlock all the political barriers standing in the way of its drive to bring about amnesty and charter change.That key is the revocation of the party dissolution clause in the Constitution.
Opponents of former PM Thaksin Shinawatra successfully invoked this clause to disband Pheu Thai's predecessors, Thai Rak Thai and People Power parties. And the pro-Thaksin camp is well aware of the potential for another party dissolution if Pheu Thai crosses the line on two contentious issues - granting amnesty to Thaksin and revamping the political system. Last year, the ruling party sponsored a draft bill designed to revamp the political system via the Constitution Drafting Assembly (CDA).
The Constitution Court intervened at the 11th hour to cast doubt on the legislative mandate to rewrite the entire charter without holding a referendum beforehand.
For months, the CDA bill has been in limbo because Pheu Thai feels it cannot be certain about the outcome of such a referendum. This week the ruling party switched its charter-change strategy.
Instead of attempting to amend the charter in one fell swoop, it will take baby steps towards amnesty and transformation of the political system.
The CDA bill will be left to languish and expire in Parliament while a fresh legislative push will be scaled down to focus on "certain" provisions of the Constitution.
In other words, the ruling party will go about amending the charter provision by provision, in lieu of a wholesale rewrite.
In the newly introduced charter-amendment bill, the ruling party has opted to present the draft in a bundle comprising legislation tackling three separate issues. This is a legislative ploy aimed at ensuring the survival of the bill if opponents activate a judicial review by the Constitution Court.
Of the bill's three issues, only one is critical, while the other two are designed to test the strength of the opposition. The latter two are draft provisions for revamping the Senate and for toning down the legislative oversight for negotiating international agreements. Under these proposals, the Senate will become a fully elected body instead of the current mixed system of appointed and elected senators.
Presently, the anti-Thaksin camp wields some influence through the appointed senators. Success or failure to transform the Senate would be a litmus test of the respective strengths of the pro- and anti-Thaksin camps. In regard to legislative oversight, successive governments have found it cumbersome.
The oversight clause was amended earlier at the initiation of the Democrats, but the Pheu Thai administration still wants to further revise legislative involvement in international affairs. Without the revision, it sees virtually no chance of successfully negotiating free-trade agreements with the EU and other countries and groups.
At the heart of the proposed charter amendments is the plan to do away with the disbanding of parties as a punishment for political offences. The anti-Thaksin camp sees this penalty as a powerful tool to rein in abuses by ruling majorities, while supporters view it as a hindrance to the democratic system. Without the threat of being disbanded, they say, the ruling party could sideline its opponents in order to accomplish whatever it sets out to do.