Charter ruling set to stoke fires

ANALYSIS: Experts say 3 of the 4 possible court rulings on the amendment draft will only add to existing political tensions

The already-fragile political situation will come under more strain on Wednesday when the Constitution Court rules on the constitutionality of the charter amendment draft on the composition of the Senate.

Setting bad luck adrift

Anti-government protesters carry giant krathong floating baskets with pictures of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his family members around the rally venue at Ratchadamnoen Klang Avenue. Many people believe they can get rid off bad things from their lives by floating them in krathong on Loy Krathong Day, which fell yesterday. PATIPAT JANTHONG

The draft to change the composition of the Senate won support from 310 MPs and is now pending delivery to His Majesty the King for approval.

However, four groups of MPs opposed to the charter change have filed petitions with the court to try to derail the amendment bid.

Two of the groups are led by two House representatives of the opposition Democrat Party.

One is Democrat MP for Songkhla Wirat Kalayasiri and the other is list MP Pirapan Salirathavibhaga.

The other two groups are led by appointed senator Somchet Boonthanom and Rayong senator Sai Kangkawekin.

Some details of the complaints differ but the Constitution Court has combined them into one case as their general points are similar and concern Sections 68 and 291 of the constitution, which protect the country's ruling system and the state.

Gen Somchet's request for an injunction against submitting the amendment draft to His Majesty the King was rejected by the court.

The court must consider nine points in coming out with a ruling on the four accepted petitions.

The first point it will have to consider is whether the amendment to require all senators be elected will ruin checks and balances and allow the political party that commands the majority of votes in the Lower House to also control elected senators and all of parliament.

In the second point, the court will determine whether the amendment contradicts the principle and intention of the constitution that supports checks and balances between the legislature and the executive branches.

The court will also consider if the amendment to allow the House Speaker to propose the amendment draft to His Majesty the King through the prime minister, bypassing the Senate, violates the present constitution.

In the fourth point, the court will consider whether the amendment will unfairly end the terms of appointed senators, extend the terms of elected senators and prove to be a conflict of interest because elected senators who proposed the amendment will be able to run for their next term right away.

The court will also take into consideration how different principles and content were added to the original amendment draft.

In the sixth point, the court will determine whether the parliament president violated the constitution by setting a timeframe for the debate on reservations registered by lawmakers on the amendment draft in a parliamentary session that lacked a quorum.

Seventh, the court will take into account that the chair of a parliamentary session prohibited 57 MPs who formed the minority of the parliamentary committee scrutinising the amendment draft from airing their reservations by claiming their doubts contradicted the principles of the draft.

The court will also consider whether the Senate Speaker, who should be impartial, has a conflict of interest because he joined other MPs who proposed the amendment draft that will benefit himself as an elected senator.

Finally, some MPs voted in the parliament for other MPs, and the court will determine if this violated the law that limits each MP to one vote.

Many analysts and legal experts agree the Constitution Court could rule in one of four ways.

The court may dismiss the complaints, rule that the amendment is not tantamount to overthrowing the present ruling system and not decide if the amendment is constitutional or not.

Alternatively, it may rule that the amendment is technically wrong, as MPs voted for colleagues and MPs with reservations were blocked from airing their opinions in the parliament.

In such a ruling, the court may not rule if the amendment will change the present ruling system, as envisaged in Section 291, or overthrow the ruling system, according to Section 68.

A third possibility is the court may rule the amendment breaches Section 291 but not Section 68.

Finally, it could rule the amendment violates both sections, which would lead the court to disband the political parties and executives who voted in line with the resolutions of their parties to support the amendment.

Political analysts believe that if the court dismisses the complaints, there will be no knock-on effect for the existing political tensions.

If the charter amendment is enforced, appointed senators will immediately and permanently lose their seats.

There will be only 200 elected senators, who will each be in office for six years, and there will be no limits on how many terms they can have.

The parents, spouses and children of House representatives and holders of political positions will be able to run in senatorial elections.

Also, senatorial candidates will be able to run in elections after resigning from any position in a political party, the cabinet or the Senate.

In the second and the third scenarios, the amendment draft would be scuppered.

The 310 MPs who voted for the amendment draft may face impeachment or legal actions by the National Anti-Corruption Commission.

Concerned political parties, party executives and the government will not be immediately affected.

However, if the court decides on either the second or third ruling, it may add fuel to the existing anti-government protests, the analysts said.

The fourth scenario would have the biggest impact, as it would affect a several major parties.

The analysts have urged caution in ruling in such a way, as some parties will be disbanded and their executives will be suspended from politics.

This would heighten the political situation because both pro- and anti-government groups may escalate their protests and could clash with each other.

However, the impact on the ruling Pheu Thai Party will be slight because its MPs, including Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, will have 60 days to apply for memberships in other political parties and maintain their MP status.

The government will lose the votes of the MPs who are party executives, but most of these executives are not MPs.

Cabinet positions will be unaffected.

However, the analysts said Ms Yingluck could resign and dissolve the House in the wake of the fourth scenario, and a new cabinet may be formed.

Related search: politics, constitution court, pheu thai party, charter, senate, amendment

About the author

Writer: Mongkol Bangprapa
Position: Reporter