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Friday the 13th

Tight security shields judges

Things are getting tense ahead of this Friday when the Constitution Court is scheduled to hand down its verdict in the case against the proponents of the government-sponsored constitutional amendment bill.

Concern for the judges' safety is mounting after news of threats to their lives and pressure from certain politicians in power. Police have provided round-the-clock protection for them, and some judges have hired their own bodyguards, according to a senior Bangkok police officer.

Pol Maj Gen Samroeng Suwannapong, commander of Metropolitan Police Bureau 2, said 24-hour surveillance had been established at the judges' houses to protect against any threat to their safety. Police checkpoints are also being set up near the residences "at appropriate times" of the day, he added.

The officer said so far there have been no intelligence reports of imminent threats or violence against the judges.

"The Metropolitan Police have provided protection to all the nine Constitution Court judges, in addition to the bodyguards with military backgrounds hired by some of the judges," Samroeng said.

"Two companies of police have been dispatched to the Constitution Court [already] although the day of the verdict reading has not arrived," he said, adding that police were gathering intelligence to determine whether reinforcements were |needed.

Eight Constitution Court judges will hand down their verdict on Friday after the ninth one, Jaran Pukditanakul, last week withdrew from the case.

The case has been filed against the Cabinet, the ruling Pheu Thai and Chart Thai Pattana parties, |and certain politicians from the parties who propose constitutional amendment. The petitioners accuse them of attempting to overthrow |the country's democratic system of government with His Majesty the King as head of state by proposing |a constitutional amendment to |allow the writing of a new constitution.

Red-shirt supporters of the government have heavily criticised the judges for accepting the petitions for judicial review.

A key figure from the ruling |Pheu Thai Party, Udomdej Ratana-sathien, said yesterday he did not expect the Constitution Court to |rule that the amendment proponents violated Article 68 of the Constitution - an offence that could lead to dissolution of the political parties involved.

"The party's legal team agreed that a ruling like that is unlikely because it goes sharply against the social mainstream," said Udomdej, who is the chief government whip.

He said it's more likely the court will reject the petitioners' case because amending the Constitution to allow writing of a new charter is not an offence under Article 68. Another possible ruling is that amendment to allow writing of a new constitution is not permitted by Article 291, and therefore changes should be made to individual articles, rather than rewriting the entire charter.

"I think this latter verdict would be good [for the amendment proponents]. It would allow constitutional amendment to be done more quickly because there was no need to establish a constitution drafting assembly," Udomdej said.

The chief coalition whip said opponents of charter changes might come up with the argument that amending a constitution that was approved by the majority in a public referendum would first require backing in a similar fashion. He noted that charter changes were done by the previous Democrat-led government without any public referendum.

Unlike Pheu Thai seniors like Chavalit Yongchaiyudh and Chaturon Chaisang, Udomdej said that he did not think a court verdict in the case - whatever it would be |- would lead to violence in the |country.

A source from the Constitution Court said yesterday the judges involved were separately studying the testimonies provided by both sides in the case in order to write their personal judgements. The source said the judges would meet |on Friday morning to discuss and vote on the final joint verdict before it is read in the afternoon.

"The whole process will be completed in one day on July 13," the source said.

Meanwhile, Democrat MP Wirut Kalayasiri, who is one of the five petitioners in the case, said yesterday he was pleased with the two days of hearing of the petitioners, the defendants, and their witnesses last Thursday and Friday.

He said some key defence witnesses had made concessions during the court hearing that would benefit the petitioners' case. For example, former Parliament president Bhokin Palakula admitted that he voted for Thaksin Shinawatra to become prime minister due to his affection and respect for him. Also, Pheu Thai leader Yongyuth Wichaidit admitted that the ruling party and the red shirts work side-by-side to achieve the same goals.

Wirut said he would submit as additional evidence an audio recording that surfaced recently of House Speaker Somsak Kiartsuranont talking about Thaksin's influence over the ruling party.

Wirut called on the parties involved to accept a court ruling |in the case for the country's sake |in the long term. "The court pro-tects the Constitution, righteousness, and the rule of law. Without the court, this country will not survive," he said.


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