DPM stands by call for 3 referenda
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DPM stands by call for 3 referenda

Charter change 'must be thorough', he says

The cabinet will acknowledge next week the government's position to hold three referenda as a requisite for amending the entire charter, says Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister Phumtham Wechayachai.

He insisted that three referenda, although lengthy, would be a prudent course of action.

Opponents argued three referenda, costing 3 billion baht each to organise, would be overly costly, time-consuming and obstructive.

Mr Phumtham, who chairs a panel studying the referendum needed to change the charter, said the panel was wrapping up its work and would present it to the cabinet next week.

The cabinet will be informed of the panel's three-referenda recommendation. "That stance remains unchanged. We must be thorough about it," he said.

The first referendum will ask voters whether they agree with writing a new charter. If the majority agree, Section 256 will be amended to pave the way for a new charter to be drafted.

Once a new charter is produced, it will be put to another referendum so the voters can decide whether it should be adopted.

The Phumtham panel reaffirmed its stance after the Constitutional Court on Wednesday rejected a petition by parliament seeking a ruling on whether the charter can be changed before a referendum takes place, and how many should be held in total.

The petition also asked the court to rule on whether parliament can put a proposed charter amendment motion on its agenda for deliberation.

The judges argued they had already ruled on the matter and the parliament president is authorised to put the matter on the agenda.

The court ruled earlier that a charter rewrite could not proceed unless a referendum was held first.

The court said amending critical areas of the charter or changing it in its entirety requires a prior, favourable referendum vote. However, the ruling did not spell out how many referendums would be needed.

Mr Phumtham yesterday denied the government was dragging its feet, saying the panel wanted to proceed with a fair degree of confidence that rewriting would not be disrupted later.

"We're opting for the safest option.

"This is so we don't find ourselves having to go back to square one," he said.

He admits the three-referendum option does not please everyone. However, he said it is conducive to democracy.

Meanwhile, Chusak Sirinil, a legal expert and deputy leader of the ruling Pheu Thai Party, said the ball was now in the court of House Speaker Wan Muhamad Noor Matha, in light of the court's rejection on Wednesday.

Mr Wan Noor must decide how to proceed with rewriting the charter, he said.

Parliament previously declined to put the issue on its agenda, which is required to start the amendment process, he added.

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