Senate must give way

Senate must give way

As political pressure in on the rise, with more student protests planned, all political parties have rushed to adopt constitutional amendment as part of their agenda in an apparent bid to ease tensions.

A charter amendment was among the key demands floated by anti-government protesters, as they view the current rules under the constitution as unjust.

Bhumjaithai Party, a coalition member, has made it clear that it wants the House to be dissolved as soon as the charter amendments are completed.

The question is, when will the changes be completed? And more importantly, can a constitutional amendment really proceed?

It is known that the 2017 constitution was written in a way that makes any amendment to the charter very difficult. This is due to the fact that under the charter, the military-installed Senate has a decisive role in approving or rejecting any changes to the constitution.

Unlike in previous charters, the current constitution requires more than half of both chambers of the House, or 376 lawmakers, to vote in favour of amending the charter for any change to happen. Among the votes, at least one-third must be from the Senate, or 84 senators.

In addition, the charter requires that any changes to provisions associated with the monarchy, the power of the courts of justice, independent agencies, qualifications of political-office holders and the charter amendment process itself, must be put to a referendum.

As such, without the Senate's endorsement, the current push for amendments won't go anywhere. Complicating matters further is the fact the Senate itself is divided. Some senators have said they agreed in principle to support a charter change, but many have given a blunt "No" as their answer -- particularly with regards to clauses which concern the role of senators and the monarchy.

At this point, senators should keep an open mind and be more aware of the divisions and problems in society which stem from the current constitution. It cannot be denied the charter was designed to prolong the military's grip on power, even after an election. The composition of the Senate, and their roles under the constitution, are among the root problems which need to be addressed.

The 250-strong Senate was appointed by the coup makers under the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). Among them are six military and police top brass, namely the military's supreme commander, the chief of the three armed forces, the permanent secretary of defence and the national police chief.

The Senate played a crucial role in helping Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha retain the premiership after the March 24 elections last year. Under the current charter, the senators had the power to nominate an "outsider" as prime minister, if the House fails to select a prime minister from a list of candidates nominated by political parties.

With a five-year mandate, the Senate is thus able to endorse a premier at least twice, if the current government completes its four-year tenure.

The fact is that the charter is a blemish on the face of democracy, as it was designed as a way to help the junta cling on to power. Because of the charter's provisions, the country is now deeply divided, and the reconciliation and reforms promised by the NCPO are in disarray.

Senators should be aware of the problems and they should sacrifice their self-interests by embracing efforts to amend the constitution. They must relinquish powers granted to them by the charter's contentious provisions for the country's sake.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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