Charter rewrite takes first step

Charter rewrite takes first step

PM rejects students' deadline for demands

House speaker Chuan Leekpai, right, accepts a motion seeking charter amendments from Pheu Thai Party leader Sompong Amornvivat at parliament on Monday. Also present are representatives from opposition parties except those from the Move Forward Party. (Photo by Pornprom Satrabhaya)
House speaker Chuan Leekpai, right, accepts a motion seeking charter amendments from Pheu Thai Party leader Sompong Amornvivat at parliament on Monday. Also present are representatives from opposition parties except those from the Move Forward Party. (Photo by Pornprom Satrabhaya)

An attempt to write a new charter, seen as a crucial step to defuse tension and resolve political conflicts, got off the ground on Monday after House Speaker Chuan Leekpai accepted the opposition-sponsored motion seeking to revise Section 256 to clear the way for a charter drafting body to be formed.

Pheu Thai leader Sompong Amornvivat filed the motion in the presence of representatives from opposition parties -- Prachachat, Puea Chat, Thai People Power and Seriruamthai. The Move Forward (Kao Klai) Party did not have a representative accompanying the opposition camp.

According to Mr Chuan, the process to verify the legitimacy of the motion would begin immediately and it would be placed on the House meeting agenda within 15 days.

Senate speaker Pornpetch Wi- chitcholchai brushed off demands by student activists that the Senate must be dissolved, saying they needed to understand that the Senate and the government were governed by the charter and related laws.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on Monday shrugged off calls for the government to meet their demands next month, saying the government would have to adhere to the procedures.

At the Sunday rally held by Free People group, the protesters urged the government to dissolve parliament to allow the people to exert their right to elect their own representatives, by amending Section 269 and 272 of the constitution.

Gen Prayut said efforts were under way to address demands for charter revision, pointing out that the House set up a committee to study charter amendments and the government planned to hold a forum to listen to students opinions.

The opposition-sponsored motion targets Section 256, which says charter changes require the support of at least one-third of the Senate, or 84 senators. The requirement is widely seen as a major hurdle to rewriting the coup-sponsored constitution.

Mr Sompong said the motion was drafted with support from the civic sector to pave the way for a new charter drafting body to be set up. It followed consensus among participants who agreed the charter had several flaws and should be revised, he said.

Chief opposition whip Sutin Klungsang insisted the motion was backed by the Move Forward Party and at least 30 MPs signed in support of the motion even though none of the party representatives were present at the filing.

The charter amendment was part of the government's policy statement delivered in the House of Representatives last year. In December efforts to amend the charter were initiated when the House of Representatives voted to set up a committee to study constitutional amendments chaired by Pirapan Salirathavibhaga, adviser to the prime minister.

However, the opposition's motion was seen as a concrete move to reinvigorate the process.

The move was welcomed by Democrat leader Jurin Laksanavisit who on Monday pledged to bring the charter issue up for a discussion with government coalition partners. He emphasised the charter rewrite remained on the party's agenda.

Mr Jurin said it became evident that rectifying the charter was a solution to political conflicts and time was ripe to push ahead with the issue. He also said the Democrat Party was ready to support any charter proposals that would lead to sustainable democracy.

Among issues to be discussed with coalition partners were the formation of a charter writing council, civil rights and liberties, decentralisation of power, reintroduction of two ballot papers, and the provisional chapters, he said.

Senator Kamnoon Sidhisamarn on Monday called for Senate participation in the charter amendment process, saying the amendment push needed the upper house's support to succeed.

He insisted the Senate would study all the drafts and vote in the public interest but said it is too soon to say if the senators would agree with the proposed amendments which have yet to be produced.

Mr Kamnoon suggested that the prime minister consider resorting to Section 165, convening a meeting between the Senate and House of Representatives, so they can together discuss ways to resolve political conflicts as students' rallies were expanding.

"To amend the charter, [at least] 84 votes from the senate are needed otherwise there are two ways to get a new charter -- via a coup or a popular uprising. But these options can lead to violence, so parliament should be used to resolve the problem," he said.

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