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Scuffles, boos bring chaos to charter change joint meeting

PARLIAMENT PRESIDENT Somsak Kiatsuranont, whose nickname is "Gavel Master", lived up to his name and used his gavel vigorously for the first time yesterday during the House-Senate joint meeting deliberating constitutional amendments. However, his gavel failed to bring order to the chamber.

Instead, they were followed by boos and MPs standing in protest. Somsak ordered the Parliament police to remove any lawmakers who refused to sit down. Several officers surrounded his chair for security.

"Anyone failing to move [the standing parliamentarians] out must face a probe," he warned the officers. This was followed by pushing, shoving and tugging between Democrat MPs and Parliament police.

MP Kulladej Puapattanakul pushed the police and put his hand on an officer's neck. Other officers scrambled to lock his arms while MP Thani Thueksuban tried to help him. A female MP screamed.

Somsak called a 10-minute break, which lasted more than half an hour.

Before the chaos, the lawmakers were to deliberate on a charter amendment related to the election, qualification and authority of senators.

Pheu Thai MP Samart Kaew-meechai, chairman of the vetting committee, told the meeting that 202 parliamentarians had registered to speak at the plenary. Two had withdrawn while some had submitted their motions after the deadline. Meanwhile, 57 motions were deemed by his committee as against the principle of the bill approved in the first reading. He asked the meeting to consider whether the sponsors of the motions should be allowed to deliberate in the plenary.

The Democrats claimed that all had the right to speak.

Democrat MP Nipit Intarasombat said he calculated the days differently from the committee, referring to the controversial closing of the meeting in the first reading.

To cut short the debate, which did not go anywhere in the morning, Somsak, who had taken the chairmanship in the afternoon, said he would allow only two representatives from the government and opposition MPs and senators to speak before voting. Following protests from the floor, he called for voting. The meeting voted 339:15 against the 57 speaking.

Democrat MP Attaporn Ponlaboot held a placard that said "Slave Parliament" in front of Somsak's seat.

Opposition whip chief Jurin Laksanawisit said the House speaker might have violated the law as he had scheduled a second reading before the first reading was completed.

Jurin was referring to the meeting on the night of April 3 (early morning April 4) which lacked a quorum. It had agreed on a period for submitting motions of deliberation and the speaker assumed the motions must be submitted within 15 days.

Somsak called another House-Senate joint meeting on April 18 to complete the procedure, and the parliamentarians voted for the 15-day deadline schedule.

Jurin said MPs who lost the opportunity to speak had the right to petition the Constitutional Court. They included Democrat chief adviser Chuan Leekpai, Nipit and Jurin.

In the morning, Democrats and some senators opposed Senate Speaker Nikom Wairatpanij from chairing the meeting, saying he might have a conflict of interest.


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