Debate needs all taking part

The decision by the Democrats to dig in their heels and resist all change to the constitution is disappointing. It is also an abdication of their responsibility as the official opposition party in parliament.

If the second-largest party was there merely to "oppose" it would not be needed. On the contrary, amending the constitution is so important that it cannot succeed unless the Democrats take part.

The party's spokesman, Chavanond Intarakomalyasut, was firm, even before parliament met on Monday. But his claim that the proposed charter changes "put the country at risk" is troubling on two counts.

The first is that he spoke for the entire party. The second is that his statement was made outside the Lower House.

The strengths and weaknesses of the 2007 constitution are up for discussion. The government and its Pheu Thai majority in parliament have made that inevitable. Any refusal by members of parliament to take part in the discussion makes them look petty and petulant. Their sworn duty is to protect the nation.

It is sad also that if the Democrats carry through with their promise of stubborn refusal, they will actually help to bring about one of the worst results. That is, Pheu Thai will ram through constitutional amendments via the process of parliamentary dictatorship. No one profits from a one-sided process in parliament. A vigorous, aggressive opposition at least informs the country. A passive opposition that just shows up to vote "no, no, no" is unhelpful to all.

Canada's greatest statesman of the 20th century served as prime minister and opposition leader. Lester Pearson, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, summed up the duty of a parliamentary opposition well. It is, he said, to "oppose, attack and criticise". His long-time adversary John Diefenbaker agreed. The opposition "finds fault, suggests amendments, asks questions and elicits information; it arouses, educates and moulds public opinion".

Until now, opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has indicated complete agreement. After he became prime minister in 2008, he insisted everyone must "stick with the parliamentary system". That system is to debate and decide all important issues affecting the country.

In that same 2009 interview, Mr Abhisit also said that he did not like all the provisions in the 2007 constitution. He articulated several objections, and declared, "It should be amended once we return to normalcy."

He supported an amendment to elect the entire Senate. He opposed the section that disbands a political party because one or some executives acted illegally. Now it seems he thinks such changes put the nation at risk.

Mr Abhisit and the rest of the opposition are under no obligation to support any government proposal. That includes important changes to the constitution that they once supported. By their very election and presence as MPs, the Democrats must explain their beliefs and policies.

There are many flaws in the 2007 military sponsored constitution. It is the duty of all MPs on both sides to find those defects and come to agreement on change. Unless they do that, the Democrats will be as guilty of putting the nation in peril as the government.