Bedfellow politics rears its ugly head

Bedfellow politics rears its ugly head

Just when one thought the "side-pillow" parliament _ the term given to husband-wife duos serving in our halls of power _ had been laid to rest, the undead show signs of returning from the grave.

Obviously, we didn't dig the grave deep enough.

Bedfellow politics was a shameful parody we loved to hate for a long time. We thought it had been cremated when the present constitution was drafted and outlawed it. It goes to show even the charter can't tame politicians' greed for power, for the urge to prolong it knows no bounds.

The past two weeks have been eventful, with several events building a critical mass for a potential social upheaval on our streets once again.

The aftermath of the Ulan Bator democracy speech has descended into a nasty war of jibes. The strengthening baht could reach a crisis point where the central bank boss may be shown the door. The red-shirt rally against the Constitution Court contributed to rising political tensions. The peace talks with the Barisan Revolusi Nasional group appear to be begging violence more than solving it.

To top it off, firebrand Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung stepped forth stridently to declare he has a national reconciliation draft bill to present to parliament that will exonerate political offenders across all colour codes and bring fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra back home.

Meanwhile, despite parliament being in recess, our government MPs are working extra hard to edit the charter.

The ongoing scrutiny of four key sections of the constitution has been quiet yet swift. One of the sections put up for the butcher's block concerns the selection of senators. Plainly, the majority of scrutiny panelists want all senators to be elected, feeling the half of those occupying the Upper House via appointment are an undemocratic bunch.

It took little more than an afternoon to "fix" what had taken months to write. But no one would mind if the changes floated or made were conducive to progress. The alteration being attempted to Section 115 would strike out a few lines that currently prevent senators from serving back-to-back terms.

The omission of some text will also do away with the ban on parents or spouses of sitting MPs from running for the Senate.

So, what is so earth-shattering about husbands and wives being MPs and senators at the same time? As one politician has put it, they can work in pairs and should reduce tension in parliament.

And that's precisely the problem.

The Senate is, at least on paper, required to counter-balance the lower house in its legislative duties. We don't need harmony or rubber stamps in parliament; we want, where warranted, feisty and clean fights for sound legislation.

The since-abrogated 1997 charter introduced all-elected senators, but the Senate was also accused of being a proxy of the House of Representatives.

The current 2007 charter offered a change _ appointed and elected senators in equal numbers.

But now the scrutiny panelists, if they have their way, will revert the system to an all-elected Senate and lift the spousal ban on senator candidacy.

Under the 1997 charter, quite a few Senate candidates, although barred from heavy electioneering and subscribing to political parties, were spouses and siblings of MPs with whom they stood side-by-side and helped canvass votes.

When they ran for the Senate, they were dependent on votes in the constituencies dominated by the political parties their spouses were members of.

In effect, the Senate candidates were out to garner largely the same pool of voters who swept their spouses into the Lower House.

Spouses applying for Senate seats having previously accompanied their partners on the general election campaign trail became a common sight. Many of them made a name in politics simply by being the better halves of MPs, and came across as sharing the beliefs and manifestos of their spouse's political party.

Once a senator, all of a sudden they swore to be a separate entity from their MP husbands. But did they not enter parliament carrying the expectation of many voters that they and their spouses would work as a team?

There is too much the husbands and wives share politically. Yet they want to have us believe that one would be free to veto shoddy pieces of legislation sponsored by a party affiliated with the other.

History attests to the reality of spousal bonds overriding commitments to maintaining objectivity and accountability in parliament. What goes on between spouses is strictly a domestic issue and should remain at home where it belongs.

Kamolwat Praprutitum is an Assistant News Editor, Bangkok Post.

Kamolwat Praprutitum

Bangkok Post assistant news editor

Kamolwat Praprutitum is an assistant news editor, Bangkok Post.

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