Roadmap veers off course

Roadmap veers off course

The privy councillors last week met Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. When it was over, a seemingly surprised general announced to the nation that it really is new days.

His Majesty the King had suggested to the Privy Council that the draft of the premier's constitution was a little too 20th century, and pointed out areas pertinent both to that failing and also to the monarchy. This was passed along to Gen Prayut.

The indirect upshot was that the premier's conflicting claims that the next election would be in 2017 and in 2018 lie moot. Because the draft constitution must be updated by a century, the election date must be, for the third year in a row, degraded by another year.

The roadmap dates are again being "adjusted".

One does not read the mind of a four-star junta head, of course, but it seemed from his post-audience presentation to the media that Gen Prayut was a bit startled to learn he had fallen behind the time curve, constitution-wise. He moved quickly, of course, to remedy the failings of his draft constitution, passed by referendum last August, but "quickly" is a relative word on Bureaucracy Row.

The government has put itself in a bit of a foot-shooting contest, however. Back in 2014, in order to give himself both a golden veneer and Section 44 authority copied from the days of Sarit Thanarat, coupmeister Gen Prayut gave himself an "interim constitution" and here's the problem.

Before the constitution approved in August can be amended and promulgated, the prime minister's personal 2014 constitution must be amended and repromulgated.

The interim constitution, hereafter known as the Shot-to-the-Foot Charter (STFC), is the legal reason the junta can present The Real Constitution, hereafter known as TRC, the one approved by last August's referendum. Inside the STFC is a section on how to endorse and promulgate the TRC. Unless the STFC is changed, the TRC can't be changed. Also, unless STFC is changed, there must be another referendum because that is how the junta wrote it. And people voting is pretty inconvenient.

Now, to be honest, changing the STFC is no big deal. The junta made it; the junta can change it, or do anything else it wants. What it must do is change the 2014 one -- that process began last Friday -- then make the important changes that His Majesty has indicated would improve TRC.

The privy councillors have reportedly indicated there are three problem areas in TRC. Those are numbered Sections 5, 17 and 182. All have to do with the monarchy, all were written, or to be scrupulously exact copied from old constitutions from the early reign of King Bhumibol.

The specific changes were not known in detail at press time. But the general problems are clear. Section 5 states that the constitution is the supreme law, and that the King is head of state. It then lays out a splendidly exact and magnificently complicated system for deciding issues not covered by TRC itself.

Section 17 deals with the regent, including how the regent is appointed, and by inference including the regent pro tempore, who was recently Privy Council president Gen Prem Tinsulanonda.

It has been pasted from every constitution during King Bhumibol's reign. There has been no regent since the 1960s, when King Bhumibol ceased making trips abroad. The section was designed when the Princess Mother served as regent at times, while the late King was absent, including attending school.

The change to this section in both of the junta's charter versions is simple. Only the King will be authorised to appoint a regent.

Now scroll down to Section 182 of TRC, a short, two-sentence chapter. "All laws, Royal Rescripts and Royal Commands relating to the State affairs must be countersigned by a Minister," it says. "The person countersigning the Royal Command shall take charge of all affairs under the Royal Command." The need for change is obvious.

The following is probably irrelevant unless Trivial Pursuit has a Thailand revival, but the very name of the junta's "Section 182" has a history.

In its original draft in 2015, Section 182 was political palaver, giving the prime minister the right to call for a vote of confidence from the Lower House. This was so blatantly anti-democratic that even the military couldn't keep tongue in cheek, and dropped it.

So Section 183 concerning Royal Commands moved up to be the new Section 182 -- and now Section 182 is in the limelight again, but as a completely different article and subject.

Except for the King's care, the military was ready to proceed with a flawed constitution that likely would not have been noticed until it flopped months or more down the road. There's not going to be an election this year or early 2018. The next junta roadmap assurance will be for an election before 2020.

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