Charter risks deepening crisis

Charter risks deepening crisis

If Thailand were a politically stable country, the charter rewrite bid wouldn't have caused such a ferocious debate.

But the country obviously isn't. That is why the government's attempt to redraft the constitution has stirred up such a blindingly thick climate of fear and distrust that rumours of an impending coup to break the political deadlock are circulating again.

In short, it's not the charter or an attempt to amend or rewrite it that is the problem. The issue, rather, is a lack of clear consensus as to what the country wants to be and the will to stick to that chosen path.

This clear consensus could take shape through a series of public discussions as suggested by the King Prajadhipok's Institute in its national reconciliation proposal, or a national referendum that gives a clear answer as to whether the charter should be rewritten or not. Until this happens, we could be locked in this dispute forever.

The reason why I think the tension surrounding the rewriting of the charter is a case of much ado about nothing is that I can find something to agree on with both sides.

Again, under normal circumstances, these issues would not have been so thorny and divisive.

Given its anti-coup stance, it's only natural for the ruling Pheu Thai Party to seek to rewrite the current charter, which it has always said is a toxic fruit from the poisonous tree of the 2006 coup d'etat.

Thailand has had as many as 18 constitutions during the past 80 years of constitutional monarchy _ three of which were complete rewrites by committees set up for this specific task.

So who would have thought this latest attempt to set up yet another constitution drafting assembly would be interpreted as an attempt to overthrow the regime of government? A very serious accusation by all means.

As for the Constitution Court, its move to accept for consideration complaints against the government's charter rewrite on the suspicion that it could be an attempt to overthrow the constitutional monarchy was unusual.

I am not saying this in regard to the use of Section 68 _ the debate still continues on whether complainants can file the charge directly with the court or only through the attorney-general.

I believe the law is less than precise on this issue and, as the Constitution Court president has confirmed, twice, that it has the authority to accept the charge directly, it deserves the benefit of the doubt.

What I consider unusual is the court's quite rare initiative to protect the charter.Going back to what I said, if other things were normal and Thailand was not a paranoid country in which everyone suspects everyone of belonging to "the other camp" and trying to seize power from one another all the time, what the court did might not be a bad thing at all.

After all, what is the point of drafting a new charter time and again? If this is the highest law that governs our basic rights and liberties and all affairs of the state, why must it be subject to the whim of governments?

Simply put, I believe that a nation's charter should not be changed so easily. It should never again be torn down by coup-makers either.

But I can also see why the Constitution Court's unusually pro-active move to safeguard this particular charter has caused suspicion among some people, mainly in the government, who fear the court may be out to sabotage them more than it desires to protect the constitution.

Frankly, there aren't many grounds to suspect the government of trying to overthrow the constitutional monarchy when it hasn't come up with a draft yet.

In fact, it has not even started the process of finding the people who will draft the new charter. What is there to be suspicious about at this early stage?

What the charter rewrite debacle has clearly revealed, however, is that Thailand remains as tightly locked in the politics of divisiveness that has dogged the country for years, despite now having a democratically elected government.

To move forward, Thailand probably needs a new charter less than it needs a new national agenda, a popularly forged agreement on how people in the country want to move forward into the future.

If the court allows Pheu Thai to continue with the charter rewrite, the party should do it slowly, conducting as many public consultations as it can to ensure this latest constitution truly represents the public's wishes.

It should also make it difficult to change this charter once it passes a national referendum. Bur if the court rules to stop the ruling party from rewriting the charter, one can only imagine how deep the crisis will become.

Atiya Achakulwisut is Deputy Editor, Bangkok.

Atiya Achakulwisut

Columnist for the Bangkok Post

Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.

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