Charter vote risks a costly aftermath

Charter vote risks a costly aftermath

Friday is D-Day for the long-awaited draft constitution that could possibly make or break the promises made repeatedly by our dear leader. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha begins the countdown to the election in accordance with his political roadmap.

The Meechai Ruchupan-led Charter Drafting Committee (CDC) has been working for months to hammer out the 270-plus clauses of the new supreme law expected to go to a referendum in July this year.

The Meechai draft comes after the previous version written by the old CDC under legal guru Borwornsak Uwanno was shot down by the now defunct National Reform Council (NRC) -- a move that resulted in the roadmap's extension.

Mr Meechai, a legal expert whose credentials have been marked by a chequered past thanks to his previous role in some old constitutions, will have to face the aftermath of the charter referendum.

Major political parties have already criticised the yet-to-be-released charter. They point out there are issues of major concern to the general public, particularly the clause about the nomination of prime ministerial candidates.

The Meechai charter draft stipulates that each political party must submit the names of three candidates prior to the election. These names cannot be changed under any circumstances. In a worst-case scenario, if the three candidates of a party were to perish at the same time, that party would lose its right to propose alternatives.

Such clauses are not only undemocratic but also odd. If we look at Thai political history, we can see how many past political figures' credentials have been slandered. At one time, a campaign of this nature against veteran politician Banharn Silpa-archa -- that he was of Chinese origin and might not meet the minimum criteria to qualify as prime minister -- almost resulted in him losing his job.

In another high-profile case, a revelation by the US embassy in 1992 that a candidate for prime minister, Narong Wongwan, had been blacklisted by Washington and unable to acquire a US visa cost him his only chance of becoming premier.

My point is that the three candidates of a party that get the highest number of votes can easily be made ineligible for the top job if political opponents resort to similar tactics.

Is it fair for the largest party to give up its chance to have a party member become the leader of the government? I would leave that as food for thought to the CDC and Mr Meechai.

More importantly, there are many other clauses such as the election/selection of the Senate that may make this charter unfavourable. Besides these are a number of organic laws that the CDC says would take at least 10 months to draft.

In effect, there are grounds to believe the July 2017 election plan as promised by Gen Prayut may be derailed.

It's quite clear that political parties including the arch-rival Pheu Thai and the Democrat parties are uniting against the new charter, the same way they did to the doomed Borwornsak charter. Not to mention the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) which has come out and voiced its opposition. The UDD has threatened to drum up its supporters to vote to reject the charter in the referendum.

Prime Minister Prayut must realise how vulnerable the draft charter is, as he has already come out warning that a "back-up plan" is already in place in case the Meechai draft fails in the referendum.

But the bigger question here is why Mr Meechai has to repeat the mistakes made by his predecessor Mr Borwornsak, pushing for a draft that risks being rejected. 

My question is: why should we, the taxpayers, take on the burden of having a referendum when the voices of the people and the political parties are not being heard? 

Why is this government so bent on having a referendum when it knows what the outcome might be and is well prepared for an alternative? The fact that key political parties are opposing it is enough for us to see the strong possibility of it being rejected. With doom nearly assured for the draft, may I ask who will be responsible for the nearly four-billion-baht budget that would be wasted in holding the referendum?

I think our dear leader, as well as the various advisory councils including the so-called "five rivers of power" -- the National Council for Peace and Order, the cabinet, the National Legislative Assembly, the CDC and the National Reform Steering Assembly will owe the people a good explanation.

Umesh Pandey is Asia Focus editor, Bangkok Post.

Umesh Pandey

Bangkok Post Editor

Umesh Pandey is Editor, Bangkok Post.

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