Govt bows to charter calls
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha's U-turn on constitutional amendment, revealing that the government has prepared its own version of a charter rewrite, is a crucial development for Thai politics, which has seen growing pressure for changes to the military-sponsored supreme law.
According to the PM, the government plans to present the rewrite bill, together with the version made by the opposition bloc, in the next parliamentary session. This defies the belief that the ruling Palang Pracharath Party and the government would obstruct the amendment for fear of losing their grip on power.
It has been unanimously agreed that a charter rewrite is unavoidable given the looming political crisis. Charter amendment is one of the three conditions set by students activists, who have staged a series of protests for weeks under the umbrella of Free Youth and Students Union of Thailand and gained significant strength in the political arena.
At the same time, a House panel studying charter amendments under Pirapan Salirathavibhaga has wrapped up its work and will put forward recommendations early next month. There are reports that it will propose an amendment to Section 256 and so pave the way for the formation of a charter rewrite committee.
However, a wait of four to five months for the next parliamentary session as stated by the prime minister is too long. Several observers also see it only as a time-buying tactic by the government to ease political pressure. This should not be allowed to happen. If Gen Prayut is serious about charter amendment, he could kickstart the process immediately after the Pirapan panel submits its recommendations.
Yet the next process is bumpy. It is known the military-sponsored 2017 charter set tough conditions for any rewrite. It requires a minimum 357 votes, which translates as support from more than half the Lower House and, very importantly, one third of the Senate (84 senators).
The latter condition is seen as a major hurdle to fixing the charter, given the unfavourable stance of some key senators.
They include one figure in particular: Pornpetch Wichitcholchai, Senate speaker and the former president of the now-defunct National Legislative Assembly (NLA) who has made it clear he does not want a rewrite and would prefer section-by-section changes. This is not enough as the 2017 charter contains a number of undemocratic elements, such as the Senate's role that runs counter to elected MPs, and is one cause of the political crisis.
But if Prime Minister Prayut really means it, he must send a signal to the Senate and solicit its support because without it, amendments are impossible.
Gen Prayut, who handpicked all those senators, cannot say that he must respect their independence and has no power to force them.
At the same time, the 250-strong Senate should be brave and respond positively to the people's wish. Senators must prove that they are free from a conflict of interest and abide by Section 114-5 of the charter that says they are obliged to act with integrity for the sake of public interest.
The ruling party and its coalition must not treat this as a political game. On the contrary, all the parties should take it as their duty to help avert what could be Thailand's next political crisis.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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