Heed charter draft gripes

Heed charter draft gripes

The government on Wednesday launched a special television programme to "educate" the public on the draft charter. It is a useful move considering the public finds legal-speak very difficult to understand. But it risks being self-defeating if it turns out to be an attempt to shoot down criticisms in a one-sided manner.

Every day until Feb 15, TV Pool will air a television programme entitled Kae Klong Rathadthammanoon Mai (Unboxing the New Constitution) twice a day at 8am and 6pm, except on Fridays which has already been allotted for the prime minister's weekly address.

Amid wide criticism of the draft, the government should be aware that defensiveness and one-way communication do not help foster better understanding. Nor can it win over scepticism. On the contrary, this widens the gap of public information and trust even further. 

Authorities should also realise this first draft needs wide public input so the final product best responds to public aspirations to ensure public approval in a national referendum. Making this happen requires an open environment for free discussion, not one-way communication or veiled threats against critics. 

The draft charter, the second attempt after the first one was ditched in September last year, was bombarded with criticism immediately after it was unveiled by Charter Drafting Committee (CDC) chairman Meechai Ruchupan last Friday.

While the drafters and the government may have expected attacks from big political parties on the new electoral system which reduces their old power bases, they have been caught off-guard by fierce criticism by not only civic groups but also from their old supporters. Thienchay Kiranandana, former chairman of the now-dissolved National Reform Council, for example, expressed grave concern about the excessive powers awarded to the Constitutional Court. He described the likely outcome as "alarming".

Calling the current draft "backward", Sombat Thamrongthanyawong, former chairman of the NRC's political reform panel, also questioned the attempts to weaken political parties, condone an unelected prime minister, and prevent charter amendments by making the process extremely difficult, if impossible altogether.

Civic groups, meanwhile, are furious that the draft has erased past constitutional rights on human dignity, community rights, and other constitutional mechanisms to fight discrimination. Subsequently, affected citizens have lost constitutional ground to take their causes to court.

Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva also wants to know why the CDC has ditched many constitutional rights enshrined in previous charters that ensure public participation. The current draft, he said, is anti-reform and anti-decentralisation, a backward move which "increases state power and decreases power of the people".

Mr Meechai said if this draft is rejected, the next attempt may be even more restrictive. Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon said criticisms must be expressed "nicely" without sarcasm and without being divisive; otherwise one could be summoned for attitude adjustment. The prime minister's recent emotional outburst against media reporting on the draft charter and the junta's order to cancel a seminar on the draft have made the situation more tense.

Proponents may argue the draft aims to get rid of corrupt politicians. Critics insist corruption is also deeply-entrenched in officialdom. Weakening people's rights and strengthening an officialdom notorious for its lack of transparency is no recipe to combat corruption.

To arrive at shared goals of good governance, the government must provide a safe environment for two-way communication. The country will benefit when a well-informed public finally cast their votes in the referendum.

Editorial

Bangkok Post editorial column

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

Email : ploenpotea@bangkokpost.co.th

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