The charter's devil is in its fuzzy details

The charter's devil is in its fuzzy details

When we read the almost-finalised draft charter, do we see the leaves, the tree, or the forest?

By the sound of it, rights groups are viewing none of the above. They believe they have been presented by the Constitution Drafting Committee with a stump.

They are furious the Meechai Ruchupan-led drafters, in their attempt to whittle down the draft to its most concise form, have chopped off so much of the basic guarantees of rights that there is hardly anything left to be desired.

The CDC has a point when it argues that basic rights not spelled out in black and white are given a trade-off in the section on the duty of state. This slaps punitive actions on a government that fails to honour the rights of its citizens. 

The counter-argument goes that if rights are not explicit or are equivocal in the writing, there is no basis on which to pursue punishment. And so the age-old riddle as to which came first, the chicken or the egg, is being bandied about once again, and we're going in circles.

Mr Meechai showed he was caving in to the critics' pressure when he pledged to flesh out the rights clauses. Even then his pledge was made on the back of a warning by Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva that the visibility of rights stated in the charter could make or break the draft constitution at the referendum. 

It wouldn't hurt to add in a few short paragraphs to lend emotional and spiritual comfort to the people whose existence hinges on the letter of the law. 

Mind you, even with the greatest clarity there is bound to be an oversight somewhere to be exploited, mostly to serve political and vested interests. We've been through it before, countless times. 

There is more to this charter business than what is decided by the 21 members of the CDC chamber. The pressure from rights groups could galvanise the CDC into mulling further modifications to the draft even after it has presented the finished product. At the moment there is a window open for public input, although calls for substantive changes to the basic principles will likely dissipate. 

More people are joining the discussion and voicing their demands. Political parties have laid it on the line: drop such issues as the single-ballot vote, the three-candidate prime minister nominations and inter-group cross-voting in the Senate election or the draft charter will not see the light of day. 

Well, the CDC can't please everyone. If it did, six months of drafting would go down the drain. 

The fate of the draft charter is tied to the human tendency to single out which parts are most relevant to each individual and which answers their interests.

Some will vote for the draft because it gives more teeth to the fight against corruption. Others might tick the ballot to sink the draft because it is perceived to entrust the Constitutional Court and independent agencies with excessive powers by allowing them to vet political parties' poll campaign policies, something they feel does not strike a democratic chord. 

I imagine not many of us have read the entire draft charter and plan to tally up its strengths and weaknesses before making up our minds on whether to keep or kill the 270-section draft.  

From where the CDC stands, it has a difficult balancing act to perform. Introducing new systems, new rules, and new thinking presents a cause for anxiety which can easily unleash wild speculation of what is to come, assuming the draft charter passes the first hurdle of the referendum. 

A vote of confidence in the referendum will have nothing to do with strengths or flaws inherent in the draft, probably one of the most fiercely debated in the country's history. Chances are the critics will dislike it even more after the next phase of suspension kicks in with the manifestation of the 10 organic laws.

The so-called "organs" of the constitution are, in theory, the laws that carry out what the constitution stipulates. The charter embodies the key principles at the very top while the organic laws are written to turn them into action. 

For example, the changes in election methods for MPs and senators will require related acts to be amended. The amendments will dictate how elections are conducted, and the devil will be in the practical details. 

The amendments will not be limited to altering election methods but spill over to adjustment of the Election Commission's authority as well. That also demands a review of another set of laws. And guess who will be in charge of revising the organic laws? Yes, the CDC. 

Correcting 10 laws in the course of eight months will be frenetic. Don't blink. 

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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