Crisis panel is undemocratic

Crisis panel is undemocratic

The Charter Drafting Committee (CDC) should drop its plan to set up an all-powerful body with special constitutional authority to override electoral democracy and parliamentary politics in a political crisis. 

The plan has been slammed by critics from all sides. And rightly so. Their concerns are valid. This so-called "crisis committee" serves as a political tool to legitimise and legalise future coups. 

The CDC's proposal to give special powers to the national committee on reform and reconciliation strategy emerged out of the blue on Tuesday. According to Borwornsak Uwanno, the draft charter's main architect, the 23-strong committee will oversee reform and reconciliation strategies in normal times, but it will have the power to take over both executive and legislative powers from the government and parliament to avoid political violence.

The members will come from three main groups. The first group includes the incumbent prime minister, the Senate speaker, the parliament president and the supreme court president as well as the army, navy, air forces and police chiefs. The second group will come from former prime ministers and past presidents of the parliament and Supreme Court. The third group are specialists in reform and reconciliation, to be appointed by parliament.

This committee with extra-parliamentary powers will have a five-year tenure after the charter becomes effective. 

Although the committee comprises civilian political elites, it is clear that the military will command the loudest say.  

In an effort to allay criticism, Mr Borwornsak said it would requires two-thirds of the committee's votes to launch such political intervention. More importantly, the committee will only use these special powers as a last resort to avoid political violence as seen in the past.

Such explanations fail to convince. According to the political roadmap, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) will be dissolved after the new government becomes effective. With members of the military junta most likely moved to this proposed reform and reconciliation committee -- and armed with special powers to freeze parliamentary politics -- it is difficult not to see this committee as an extension of NCPO power.

The draft charter has already put in place many mechanisms to constrain the new elected government's ability to manoeuvre in parliamentary politics. Many are rightly concerned that this crisis committee will put the nail in the elected government's coffin.

The CDC may well have good intentions. Indeed, Thailand should never experience such tragic political violence again. The country is in dire need of political reconciliation and reform in all sectors. But this high-minded goal cannot be attained when important decisions, which can make or break democracy, remain concentrated within a small group of civilian and military elites -- which is reflected yet again in the plan to set up this so-called crisis committee.

It is also far from clear how this military-led committee can prevent political mayhem without the use of force and violence.

This should be made clear: Thailand cannot move forward politically and economically without structural reforms to effect inclusive democracy in an open society. The new charter should move Thailand in this direction, not hold the country back with anti-democracy mechanisms.

If the new charter allows for the use of special powers to cut short the democratic process, democracy will not have a chance here. Nor will reform and reconciliation.

Amid heavy criticism, the CDC has agreed to make clear the limits of the crisis committee's powers. This is not enough. The CDC must drop this anti-democratic move altogether.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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