Kicking up a stink puts new charter at risk
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Kicking up a stink puts new charter at risk

A fascinating quote popped up last week that sums up the state of health, and is perhaps a foreboding of the fate, of the country's mother of all rule books — the constitution.

If I may convey the kernel of what Prasarn Maruekapitak, of the National Reform Council, mentioned the other day: "…if the drafters had penned the charter and the nam-nao [sewerage water] politicians kicked up a fuss and got all restless about it, it could only mean a step in the right direction for the drafters".

I don't know about anyone else but Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva doesn't hide his disdain for certain components of the draft charter and has, in the process, taken a burning swipe at Mr Prasarn for offering an unconstructive view that is unhelpful to the charter-writing efforts and pays lip service to reconciliation which the new charter intends to achieve.

The meat of the draft charter being cooked up by a handful of constitution writers doesn't go down well with Mr Abhisit and but it has struck a chord with a legion of Facebook fanatics, one of whom gave a wrathful depiction of politicians as "destroyers of the nation" and pointed to the country's desperate need for a charter that politicians actually detest.

Several politicians have whispered behind the military's back, complaining about how the charter-writing business has become an exclusive club where, from the ringside, they have watched an election system being reformed which could introduce a fractious, and potentially fragile, coalition government.

The reform is played out in numbers and the new method of calculating the MPs in the single-constituency and party-list baskets — which charter drafters say will be more accurate — is convoluted, to say the least.

The politicians also murmured their despair over the charter drafters' stern intention to open a window for the introduction of a non-MP prime minister and to vest a prime minister with the unprecedented power to initiate legislation with a limited time allowed for the opposition to mount a veto.

While the drafters have a point in trying to streamline the vote calculation method on account of fairness, having to tick two ballots and possibly writing down the correct spelling of the name of a preferred list candidate from a pool of individuals of a party of choice — aka an open list — could set off an avalanche of dud ballots.

Will too many dud ballots mar the validity of the election to the point where a re-poll has to be called? Even if the election proceeds without a hitch, tallying up  single-constituency votes in each of the five electoral regions will not be done overnight as was common in past elections. It has been proposed that the ballots be delivered for counting at a single large venue instead of at polling stations.

Nothing is settled until the single-constituency seat count is finalised, a step which then decides how many list MPs, if any, a party can garner. The central idea here is if your party's constituency seats fill up the "MP quota" proportionate to the popular vote your party earned, you need to forfeit the list MPs.

The charter drafters obviously want to trim the "excess fat" — the undeserved MP seat giveaway that bloated some political parties and made them unrealistically large. However, making parties leaner could also render politics weaker as the more realistic sizes of parties imply there will be a multi-party coalition government vulnerable to squabbling, lobbying, jockeying for public office and back-stabbing.

It is clear politicians are disturbed by the notion of a non-MP premier, a confusing election that threatens to create a government that lacks unity and divides political parties internally through fellow candidates competing against one another on the open list.

Politicians are the players and they need to be heard and their feedback considered. The charter drafters have indicated they welcome a compromise over the charter contents although how far the middle ground will stretch is another matter.

Modifying the election is only one of many contentious chapters in the draft charter. But a compromise should not mean wasting the once-in-a-blue-moon chance of constitutional reform by resurrecting any of the previous charters, as suggested by some former MPs.

Without a tuning up, the draft charter may be struck down by the NRC and the National Council for Peace and Order. Writing the constitution has exhausted us of manpower and drained our energy and money. Remember it took a coup to draft one up. We shouldn't do it too often.

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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