Directly elected PM plan rapped

Directly elected PM plan rapped

Some on NRC predictmore harm than good

A proposal to directly elect the prime minister and cabinet members has come under heavy criticism from National Reform Council (NRC) members who believe it would cause more problems than it would solve.

The proposal to elect the next prime minister directly, put forward by the NRC committee on political reform and chaired by Sombat Thamrongthanyawong, seemed to draw the most interest from NRC members.

In presenting the proposal, Mr Sombat said the plan to have a directly-elected prime minister and cabinet ministers was out of concern over a "monopoly" on power in the executive and legislature.

The fact that the prime minister, prior to the coup, was elected by the House of Representatives meant the premier had to bow to pressure or return political favours to those who brought him or her to power, he said.

Mr Sombat said the current system undermines the checks-and-balances system. The proposal was intended to fix this flaw.

"If we stick to the current system we have to fix its flaws. The plan is for the executive to focus on administrative duties only. It can't dissolve the House or pass laws, while legislators can't hold a no-confidence debate but can scrutinise the government through a political court," he said.

He said the plan would establish political stability and therefore allow the government to focus on tackling the affairs and problems of the nation.

However, NRC member Chartchai na Chiang Mai said he did not see how the proposal would solve the country's problems. It could in fact make matters worse, he said.

He also expressed concerns about election-related violence, saying prime ministerial candidates could become targets for attack.

Chai Chidchob, a member of the Bhumjaithai Party and Sombat committee member, said the plan would only encourage massive vote-buying. Mr Chai voted against the proposal.

Politicians contesting House seats were more likely to ask voters to select prime ministerial candidates associated with their parties, according to Mr Chai.

"Vote-buying would spread to the election of the prime minister. It would be impossible for prime ministerial candidates to canvass for votes in 70,000-80,000 villages across the country," he said.

He said the draft charter should specify that the prime minister must be the leader of a political party, must be an MP and that the cabinet is endorsed by the House of Representatives.

Mr Chai said it is more important to strengthen the checks-and-balances system.

Nanthawat Poramanant, another committee member who opposed the proposal, said the direct election of the prime minister would only result in a monopoly on power as long as mechanisms to prevent vote-buying remain ineffective.

He said the current system should be left alone while existing laws and regulations should be strengthened to take action against fraud in elections.

He also voiced support for Mr Chai's idea.

"Once we elect the prime minister, the premier should then submit a list of prospective cabinet ministers to the House of Representatives for endorsement," he said.

NRC member Prasarn Maruekapitak said the country's political problems did not stem from a lack of political stability, but overwhelming stability.

"We have been talking about strengthening checks and balances, reducing disparities and distributing power over three days. The whole point of it is to curb state power and increase the people's power. I don't see how the direct election of a prime minister can achieve this," he said.

Mr Sombat acknowledged concerns raised that the proposed system would give too much power to the prime minister.

He said as a means to keep prime ministerial power in check, the committee proposed the House of Representatives use a political court.

He noted that the proposal was not designed to specifically solve the problem of vote-buying.

Meanwhile, the NRC committee on the reform of local administrative organisations (LAOs) yesterday put forward a proposal for the establishment of people's councils to give advice to the LAOs.

Committee chairman Pongpayom Wasaphuti said local politics should differ from the national stage with those losing local polls being appointed to serve on people's councils.

"We propose a 'compromise' model that is built on mutual agreement to tackle disparity problems. The people's councils will have an advisory role. We want to reduce political competition. There will be no winners or losers in an election," he said.

Mr Pongpayom said decentralisation of power to LAOs should also come with distribution of financial resources and the roles of LAOs should be defined clearly to avoid the overlapping of responsibilities and wasting of resources.

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