PM must heed warning

PM must heed warning

The mass demonstration of students and pro-democracy groups over the weekend should send a strong message to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha that he must show more sincerity over constitutional amendment.

The protests were peaceful and the protest leaders proved they did not want to incite violence, though there were some tense confrontations between attendees and police officers.

The protesters have gained momentum. Lack of solid action by the powers-that-be to address their demands could lead to bigger rallies and events.

At the same time, the protest leaders pushed for reform of the monarchy. They submitted their proposal to the Office of Privy Councillors. Such a bold act lifts the lid on discussion of a topic which has tradionally been taboo in Thai society, although parliament may be the best place for it to continue.

As well as reform of the monarchy, the protesters stuck to their original demands for House dissolution and the PM's resignation -- both of which will be highlighted in future protests.

Charter amendment is the most sensible demand as the 2017 constitution appears designed to prolong the power of junta-backed government by giving 250 appointed senators what could often be a decisive vote in the parliamentary process of selecting a prime minister.

Last year, the Senate played a crucial role in helping Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha retain the premiership after the March 24 election.

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

That's why charter changes to "switch off the Senate" have become a crucial demand of protesters.

The prime minister needs to address this request openly and with sincerity.

Although most political parties have shown their support for rewriting the charter, Gen Prayut has given no public backing to the move.

If anything, he has poured cold water on it. Previously, the premier cited the high cost of charter amendment process, warning that it would require two referendums and up to 10 billion baht from the state coffers.

Last Thursday, he warned the anti-government rally posed the risk of a new surge in Covid-19 transmissions, which would necessitate a fresh round of business lockdowns and a further delay in the economic recovery.

He said he was aware that the protesters had political grievances and issues with the constitution but the country has more urgent issues to address, such as Covid-19 and the ailing economy.

In fact, the PM should realise that if he ignores the student demands now, further and bigger protests will emerge and become a genuine hindrance to economic recovery.

Gen Prayut should clearly announce that he supports "switching off" the Senate in its current form and also urge the Upper House to back the charter rewrite.

Why are such signals from Gen Prayut so important? This is because the backing of a number of the senators is a prerequisite for the process to go ahead.

The 2017 constitution requires at least one-third of the Senate, or 84 senators, to vote for any charter changes. Without a clear signal from Gen Prayut, it seems unlikely that the push for charter amendment can succeed.

That could lead to mass protests on an even larger scale -- a political risk that the government should avoid.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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