Somsak sees end to strife in New Year

Parliament president calls for simultaneous public hearings, referendum

Holding a public referendum on constitutional amendments in parallel with public hearings would be the best way to end the charter conflict, Parliament President Somsak Kiatsuranont has said.

The government has tried to bow to the opposition party's demands by holding a referendum to find out if the public agrees with a plan to rewrite the constitution entirely, he said.

The referendum plan and the offer of hearings gave him reason to hope the political climate will improve next year, he said.

Regarding the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship's opposition to the referendum, Mr Somsak said all sides can hold different views under the democratic system and at the same time they must accept each other's right to hold opposing ideas.

Mr Somsak disagreed with a proposal to amend the charter section by section as pushed by Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung.

In his view, the government has come a long way towards pushing for the rewrite of the charter in its entirety and in his view should proceed with its aim.

Mr Somsak said the government does not have to show responsibility by leaving office if the public rejects changes to the constitution during the referendum, which will cost about two billion baht to organise.

There are no laws saying the government has to resign in the event of a defeat, Mr Somsak said. He added the outcome of the referendum will provide a solution to the nation's most pressing political problem anyway.

Pheu Thai deputy spokesman Jirayu Huangsap said party members are still divided on how to proceed with the charter amendment. Some support a plan to hold a referendum, some want to go ahead with the third reading vote on the amendment bill, now stalled in the House, and others want the charter to be amended section by section.

However, the party should reach a conclusion on the issue at a seminar next Sunday and Monday at Khao Yai in Nakhon Ratchasima.

Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul said the government would be busy next year with amending the constitution.

"Amending the charter was one of the Pheu Thai Party's pledges during its campaign last year," he said.

He said the charter rewrite bid would include a proposal to remove Section 309 of the 2007 constitution, which protects the 2006 coup-makers from prosecution and endorsed the investigation into alleged corruption cases against Thaksin Shinawatra and his government by the coup-appointed Assets Scrutiny Committee (ASC).

Mr Surapong said the opposition Democrat Party is trying to block efforts to amend the section to protect the now-defunct ASC.

Mr Surapong said Section 190 of the constitution should also be amended.

The section requires all international agreements or treaties to be approved by parliament before they are signed.

"Foreign Ministry staff and I find this section makes it difficult for us to work because it slows down the signing process," said Mr Surapong.

He reiterated the government has no intention to bring Thaksin back to Thailand but he believed that if the judicial process was fair, Thaksin would return to face justice himself.

Democrat MP for Surat Thani, Suthep Thaugsuban, the party's former secretary-general, urged the public to step forward and warn "rogue" politicians to act within the law and not to employ illegitimate methods or threats cause disturbances in the country.

Mr Suthep said the ruling Pheu Thai Party is still bent on helping whitewash the crimes of deposed prime minister Thaksin through rewriting the charter entirely.

He said the public should warn Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin's younger sister, to free herself from the influence of Thaksin and act in the interests of the nation rather than individuals.

"I want the prime minister to declare her independence and become the prime minister of all Thais, not the prime minister of Thaksin and the [Shinawatra] family," Mr Suthep said.

He said if the government keeps allowing Thaksin to tell it what to do, and pays no heed to the public, public resistance to the administration would grow.

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Writer: Mongkol Bangprapa & Thanida Tansubhapol