Premier defends appointed Senate
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Premier defends appointed Senate

Won't have powers over govt, he insists

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said he wants to select senators for the next parliament, from business, agriculture and, of course, security. (Photo by Thiti Wannamontha)
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said he wants to select senators for the next parliament, from business, agriculture and, of course, security. (Photo by Thiti Wannamontha)

A chamber of appointed senators is needed to safeguard the new constitution in addition to ensuring good governance and implementation of the national strategy, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha insisted Tuesday.

He said an appointed Senate was intended as a mechanism to ensure the charter would not be "messed with" by politicians after a general election but they would not have powers over an elected government as feared. The proposal has come under fire from critics who see it as a back-door way for the military regime to keep a grip on power.

Gen Prayut said the senators would be selected from various fields including business, security and agriculture.

"If they agree with constitutional amendments, so be it. If they disagree, the two chambers should hold a joint sitting and vote. If we don't have the Senate [to safeguard the charter], ask yourself if things [political conflicts] will come back," he said.

He insisted the appointed senators would not have the power to rule if an elected government was in the wrong or bring it down. However, he said he disagreed with a suggestion that appointed senators be allowed to vote to select the prime minister.

"If you ask me, I'd say senators shouldn't get involved in the selection of the prime minister. I prefer not to get involved in contentious issues," he said.

The proposal for a chamber of appointed senators was raised by Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon. He envisages them working for five years after a general election to ensure implementation of national reforms.

Meanwhile, the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) has agreed to amend the draft charter to reduce the powers of the Constitutional Court amid criticism it was given too much influence.

CDC spokesman Udom Rathamarit said the most contentious clause is the one that allows the court to have a final say in cases where the new constitution lacks provisions to solve problems involving the House of Representatives, Senate, parliament, cabinet and independent agencies.

In response, the CDC has agreed to amend the clause to require the court's president to invite heads of the House, the Senate, the Supreme Court, the Supreme Administrative Court, and all independent agencies to meet jointly and make a decision.

Mr Udom said the revision should allay critics' concerns about the overwhelming power of the Constitutional Court. According to Mr Udom, the CDC has also made changes to the number of judges sitting in a case, from at least five to seven, to increase the confidence of complainants. A majority vote applies when a ruling is made by the Constitutional Court.

He said the court is also given the power to determine if a public official has diverted proposed allocations to benefit politicians during scrutiny of a budget bill.

He said the Supreme Court is also given the power to join the Constitutional Court in considering petitions concerning the ethical conduct of political office-holders, including MPs and senators.

"The CDC has made changes to the use of powers by the Constitutional Court and transferred some of its powers to other agencies such as the Supreme Court. However, the steps or processes in which complaints are handled remain the same," said Mr Udom.

In a related development, Dissathat Hotarakit, secretary-general of the Council of State, said Tuesday that the agency has sent officials to help the Election Commission (EC) draft a public referendum bill for use in a charter vote.

He said the contents of the bill will be similar to the 2007 public referendum legislation and the bill should be completed around the time the amendments to the interim charter are finished.

Mr Dissathat said the bill will impose penalties on people who distort the content of the charter or instigate unrest. A referendum on the charter is planned for July.

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