Suthep law call angers Dem leader
Old allies fall out in election timing row
Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva has slammed former protest leaders Suthep Thaugsuban and Paiboon Nititawan for their push for amendments to the organic law on political parties.
It is the first time Mr Abhisit has directly criticised Mr Suthep, a former Democrat secretary-general and powerful voice in the country's oldest party, over his law amendment proposal which would bring about the "resetting" of all political parties.
Mr Abhisit said the calls to amend the law by the pair are in stark contrast to their gestures of constant support for those in power.
"I want to question the people who are calling for changes to the law. As you have constantly supported those in power [including the drafting of the law], I want to know what the differences are between those days and today and why [do you believe the law has problems today]?'' Mr Abhisit said, without mentioning Mr Suthep or Mr Paiboon by name, although it was clear who he was referring to.
Mr Suthep, a former protest leader of the now-defunct People's Democratic Reform Committee and Mr Paiboon, head of the People's Network for Reform, are thought to favour Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and the military regime remaining in power beyond the 2018 election.
Mr Suthep has been questioned by some Democrat Party members over claims he has made an agreement with the regime to pave the way for a military party to be established in a way that would afford it advantages over existing parties.
Both Mr Suthep and Mr Paiboon have called on the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) to amend the organic law on political parties.
They said Section 140 and Section 141 of the law are unfair and should be amended to ensure fair treatment for new parties and new members.
The provisions deal with fees, membership and steps in forming new parties.
According to Mr Paiboon, the law exempts existing members from paying membership fees for four years while requiring members of new parties to pay at least 1,000 baht.
Unlike emerging parties, existing party members will be allowed to be registered despite not having paid fees.
Mr Abhisit said Monday that he felt the argument in support of the organic law on parties being amended to make it fairer does not hold water as the issue could be resolved with the partial removal of the political activities ban by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).
Instead of changing the law, the NCPO should lift the political activities ban to prevent established parties having an advantage over new ones, he said.
Small and emerging parties are having trouble recruiting members with the ban in place, and they must also present proof of membership payments to qualify them to contest the next general election, he added.
He said the lifting the ban could be done in stages so small and emerging parties will have a level playing field in preparing for the next poll.
Still, Mr Abhisit said he was confident his party would be able to meet the deadline to present its membership database for review on Jan 15.
Mr Paiboon rejected criticism that his proposals were a trick aimed at delaying the general election or advancing the interests of the military, which has been reluctant to let parties plan for the next poll.
He said enforcement of certain sections of the organic law on political parties should be suspended to ensure the general election takes place in November next year.
Undeterred by criticism he has a secret agenda to help the military remain in power, Mr Paiboon said he will submit his proposals to the prime minister this week.
Also Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam hinted Section 44 of the previous interim charter will be invoked to amend the organic law on political parties to extend the deadlines for them to complete the processes required by the law.
Mr Wissanu has previously said the organic law can be amended through the NCPO chief's invocation of Section 44 of the previous interim charter, which has been carried over into the current constitution.
The other way to amend the law is through the normal legislative procedure via the NLA.
However, he said the NLA legislative procedure needs to follow Section 77 of the constitution that requires a public hearing as well as consultation with the Election Commission (EC) -- a process which will take some time.
In light of this, the use of Section 44 would be the most viable option to expedite the amendment to the organic law, he said.
Even though the EC also has the power to extend the deadlines under the law, any move by the EC may be treated with suspicion should it appear to favour any particular party, so to ensure fairness Section 44 is the only option, Mr Wissanu said.
However, he admitted that any changes to the law would mean nothing if the ban on political activities is not lifted, adding it is up to the NCPO to decide when to lift the ban.
NLA chairman Pornpetch Wichitcholchai admitted that any amendments to the legislation will affect the time frame for the general election tentatively set for November 2018.
He said the NLA has not yet decided whether to amend Sections 140 and 141 of the organic law on political parties as proposed by Mr Suthep and Mr Paiboon.
An NLA committee led by NLA deputy chairman Surachai Liangboonlertchai has invited Mr Suthep and Mr Paiboon to discuss their proposals on Friday.