All in to fix charter
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All in to fix charter

Through its endorsement of three referendums that would amend Thailand's entire charter, a proposal that was forwarded by a study panel under Deputy Prime Minister Phumtham Wechayachai, the government has now set in motion the charter drafting process. It is looking like it will proceed at a snail's pace.

The decision to endorse the three referendums was made at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

Previously, the opposition was of the opinion that two referendums would suffice, as there are ongoing concerns about the size of the budget needed and how burdensome it will be.

It's estimated that each referendum is set to cost more than three billion baht. On top of this, there are suspicions that this could also be a delaying tactic of the government. The Move Forward Party, in particular, has also questioned the Pheu Thai-led coalition government's sincerity in pushing for a new supreme law.

It could be said that Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin wants to play it safe. There are concerns about the legal technicalities around having two referendums, which may give an excuse for some opponents to file complaints with the Constitutional Court, and that would be a bad omen for the process. If the court shoots it down, everything will go back to square one.

The Srettha cabinet also gave the nod to the amendment of the Referendum Act 2021 in order to abolish what is known as the "double majority" rule, a requirement that each referendum must have participation from over 50% of eligible voters -- or more than 13.5 million out of 26 million voters -- and also for a majority of those voting to approve the new charter. If the "double majority" had remained, the rewriting would have been impossible.

The first referendum that may take place in July or August, delayed by a few months from the initial timeline set, is to ask voters if they agree with writing a new charter, all of it apart from Chapters 1 and 2.

With regards to the untouched chapters, Chapter 1 defines Thailand as an indivisible kingdom with a constitutional monarchy, and this cannot be edited; while Chapter 2 covers sections about royal prerogatives, which also cannot be changed.

If the majority gives the nod and the amendment of Section 256, which allows for a charter rewrite, is approved, a second referendum will be organised.

Once a new draft is completed, the government will hold a third referendum that would ask voters to decide whether or not the new charter should be adopted.

Despite having had a jumpstart, the path ahead remains rough, given the political complications and the many technicalities. It also remains uncertain whether a charter drafting panel can finish its work during this government's four-year term. And there is a risk with each referendum; if the majority of voters voice "no", the entire process could collapse.

Yet, the government and the other political parties have a moral obligation to get things done and put in the effort -- which has been long overdue since the days of the previous administration under Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, former head of the National Council for Peace and Order, which made no progress on the charter. Charter amendment was a pre-election promise made by all the political parties in the last election.

All parties must pitch in to ensure that the current charter -- a political product of the military junta that ruled Thailand for a decade after seizing power in 2014 and is the source of conflicts and divisiveness -- must come to an end.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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