Blight on democracy

Blight on democracy

For those who follow Thai politics, there's nothing more interesting than the parliament session to be convened this week.

House Speaker Chuan Leekpai said parliament will convene tomorrow to Thursday, when charter amendment motions submitted by both the government coalition and opposition parties will proceed.

The Constitutional Court in March ruled against a proposed charter amendment bill which would have paved the way for an entire rewrite, saying that to do so, two referendums, before and after, would be required.

As a result, parties have focused on section-by-section changes instead of a holus-bolus rewrite.

But several proposed changes have since come under fire as they are seen as designed to advance the interests of parties themselves rather than the public interest. They include one bill making changes to the electoral system.

The current system is designed to increase MP seats won by small and medium-sized parties. At the same time, it reduces seats available to large parties. Pheu Thai is the main party backing change, as it loses its advantage under this system, while PPRP and small parties prefer the status quo.

Nevertheless, there is one issue which is considered a true blemish on Thai democracy, and should be changed.

It is Section 272, which allows the Senate to join MPs in the selection of the premier. The section has been widely criticised as being a tool to keep Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha in power.

The issue has upset many senators. Senator Kittisak Rattanawaraha said most senators agree they will vote to back only the amendment proposed by the PPRP, which would keep the Senate's powers in this regard.

According to the constitution, an amendment requires the support of at least one third of all 250 senators, or a total of 84. Backing the status quo, Senator Somchai Sawaengkarn asked, "What's wrong with the senators?", saying that Section 272 was endorsed by a referendum.

It's true that senators have not done any wrong but the composition of the Senate under the current charter flies in the face of democracy.

The 250 senators were appointed by the coup makers under the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO). Among them, six are reserved for the armed forces and police top brass.

The 250-member Senate has been granted the power to join the House of Representatives in voting for the next prime minister for five years, which greatly reduces the public's voice in choosing its leader.

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.

As the Prayut government has a four-year term, the Senate will play a crucial role in choosing a prime minister after the next election. The PM candidate who wins the Senate's support has no need for a majority in the House of Representatives to become PM. Isn't this against the voters' will?

Almost alone among his colleagues, Senator Wanchai Sornsiri expressed support for moves to strip the Senate's power in the selection of the prime minister.

"If the Senate votes for someone who does not have the support of a House majority, that means the Senate goes against public sentiment," he said.

It's time the Senate and the PPRP MPs should understand the corrosive effect on democracy of such flaws in the constitution, and amend them when they get the chance.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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