Pridi panel slams draft charter, NCPO
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Pridi panel slams draft charter, NCPO

The latest junta-backed draft charter carries fewer democratic values than charters written after the 1932 revolution, scholars said yesterday at a ceremony marking the 116th birthday of the late statesman and coup leader Pridi Banomyong.

Siripan: The people must come first

If Pridi had lived for another 33 years, he would not have voted for this 279-section draft written by a panel appointed by the ruling generals, they said at Thammasat University, which Pridi founded two years after the 1932 coup.

Siripan Noksuan Swasdee, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, told a panel that Pridi, one of the founders of the Khana Ratsadon, or Peoples' Party, that led the change of government in the former Siam from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy in June 1932, believed firmly in respect and benefits for the people, which this draft charter hardly provides.

"Pridi signified the voice of the people. He would not agree with the proportional electoral system proposed in the draft 2016 constitution -- which will dilute the calculation of seats for parties chosen by the people to govern the country," said Ms Siripan.

Pridi had held several ministerial posts before he became regent from 1941-1945.

He was the country's seventh prime minister from March-August 1946.

Pridi fled to China in 1949 after a failed coup against his former ally Plaek Phibunsongkhram. He then went on to France, where he died on May 2, 1983.

He was later named one of the world's great personalities of the 20th century by Unesco in 2000.

Ms Siripan said that among the 20-odd charters which Thailand has had in the past eight decades, three of the best were commissioned by Pridi -- in June 1932, December 1932 and 1946.

In comparing the 1946 version to the current draft, the former was more democratic as it barred bureaucrats from holding political office, said the associate professor.

Although the 2016 draft stipulates that only MPs are entitled to vote for a prime minister, an additional question by the junta to be asked at the referendum is whether the military-picked Senate should be eligible to vote for a prime minister as well, said Ms Siripan.

Another panelist, Chiang Mai University law lecturer, Somchai Preechasinlapakun, said Thailand is now ruled by a law that did not come from the legitimate power of the people.

He said Pridi didn't mind having representatives who were not directly elected by the people, but that any choice must trace back to the people's decision, he said.

The municipality law enacted in 1934 was meant to develop democracy at the local level but the recent attempt by the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to shift from locally elected to centrally appointed representatives was the opposite of Pridi's concept, said the scholar.

The concept and attitude of the drafters and sponsors were clear in that they want to preserve authoritarian power, not strengthen the power of the people, Mr Somchai said.

"Currently, especially in the 2016 draft charter, the status of unelected politicians will be boosted. These people are cronies of the NCPO or the network of dictators which help prop up the junta and benefit from the junta's prolonged presence," said Mr Somchai.

He proposed that Thai society look forward to how to deconstruct the coup-created legal structures once the regime has gone.

"Pridi had discussed Germany's efforts of 'de-nazification' after the fall of Adolf Hitler and we therefore should think of how to dismantle the effects of the NCPO's orders which have become the country's governing laws," said the Chiang Mai-based scholar.

A third panellist, Thammasat University vice-rector Prinya Thaewanarumitkul, said the junta should detach itself from being part of the current political predicament by announcing to Thais that it would accept any results of the referendum. "[With the draft charter], the biggest party likely to win the election is the NCPO party," he said.

The NCPO, said Mr Prinya, should also declare what steps would be taken if the people disagree with the draft constitution so a path towards democracy could be laid out, while also showing the NCPO's intention to allow the people to decide their future.

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