Disqualification law not intended to bully EC: Meechai
Chief constitution writer Meechai Ruchupan yesterday said all independent agencies, including the Constitutional Court, would be treated equally regarding the disqualification of members as stipulated by new organic laws, adding the Constitution Drafting Commission (CDC) had no intention to bully the Election Commission (EC).
The drafters were writing organic laws in accordance with the charter approved in the recent referendum, he said yesterday.
The CDC chairman was speaking at the opening ceremony of a seminar in Parliament yesterday to solicit opinions on the organic laws.
Earlier, EC member Somchai Srisuthiyakorn said the CDC “was out of its mind” to write provisions regarding disqualification in the new law that will govern the EC’s affairs.
Meechai said many people wanted the CDC to make a decision over qualification criteria, but the selection committee would judge whether commissioners were qualified to continue their terms at the independent agencies.
He said the CDC’s work was in the interest of long-term reforms and suppressing corruption, which meant the regulations and prescribed punishments could be considered harsh and unacceptable by some people.
Meechai reassured critics that every independent agency would be treated equally, but the organic law governing the EC had to be deliberated on at the outset because the body is responsible for organising an election, implying that the CDC was not being biased in its work.
In a separate interview, the CDC chairman said drafters had attempted to find solutions to avoid the removal of the current EC members, but the new constitution stated clearly that if they lacked qualifications they should leave office.
The CDC was not in a position to make exceptions or it would be blamed for contradicting the constitution, Meechai said.
The debate came amid controversy and confusion over the potential disqualification of independent agency commissioners. The CDC members have said that some might have to leave office if they lacked the qualifications required under the new laws, prompting EC commissioners – including Somchai – to question whether dismissals would be fair given that they were qualified under the current law.
Somchai added that some people had left their previous jobs to take up positions in independent agencies because they were qualified, so it would not be fair to dismiss them before their tenure expired under the terms of unexpected new laws.
Regarding the potential dissolution of provincial EC branches, Somchai said it appeared that very few people had faith in his agency given the public opinion that the drafters seemed to be acting upon.
Meanwhile, Meechai said provincial branches could not fulfil their job of preventing election fraud, so they should be replaced by outsider “election inspectors” who could be appointed temporarily.
Somchai said his agency had three main tasks: make elections as convenient as possible for voters; convey a good understanding of candidates and their policies to voters; and prevent fraud during an election as much as possible.
The organic law governing the EC should be designed to enable it to fulfil those duties, Somchai said, adding the EC had proposed an appropriate draft law. But the CDC had rejected the most crucial points of that document and written an entirely different draft, he complained yesterday.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam yesterday backed the CDC proposal for election inspectors to replace the existing provincial officials, saying it was intended to ensure free and fair polls.
Wissanu said inspectors would be appointed for every election, adding that under the existing system provincial officials accumulated power and influence during their four-year terms. “This proposal may have both strengths and weaknesses. We have to weigh the pros and cons. The goal is to ensure free and fair elections,” he said.
Besides the organic law on EC, the seminar at Parliament yesterday also considered opinions regarding the organic law governing the selection of the Senate, which included a stipulation that senators should be “cross-elected” by 20 occupational groups and candidates would be selected by a group outside of their profession.
Many attendees at the seminar showed strong disapproval for the method, saying it was confusing and it would not make sense for voters from one occupation to select representatives from another occupation.
Participants at yesterday’s event included members of the National Legislative Assembly and National Reform Steering Assembly as well as politicians. However, politicians from the two major parties, Pheu Thai and Democrat, did not attend.