Move Forward charter bill wins more support

Move Forward charter bill wins more support

Pheu Thai wants to defer touchy issue of Senate, but may reconsider if conditions change

Opposition parties except Pheu Thai have agreed to support the Move Forward Party’s constitutional amendment bill to “switch off” 250 senators before proceeding with a charter rewrite.

The bill aims to open the door for writing a new charter by changing the sections governing how the current constitution can be changed. 

Pheu Thai, the largest opposition party, said it might not be able to endorse the Move Forward version of the bill but eased its stance a little on Saturday by saying that if things changed, it would have to to wait for a re-vote on the issue, according to Khaosod Online

Pheu Thai this week voted almost unanimously not to support the Move Forward bill. It believes that its own bill, calling for an elected constitutional drafting council, has a better chance of success.

The parties in the coalition government, meanwhile, agreed this week on a single version of a motion to initiate a constitutional amendment, which includes details of the formation of a panel that would write a new charter. The fate of the Senate would be decided in the future.

All six opposition parties have long agreed that the 2017 constitution written by the coup makers has to be changed. Their common stance is to get rid of appointed senators and to set up a drafting council elected by people. The big question is how.

Move Forward wants to scrap the sections on senators before beginning the process of drafting a new constitution. While the votes of at least 84 of 250 senators are required to change anything in the charter, the young party believes external pressure — spreading youth rallies and critical public views on the role of the senators — could pressure them into accepting the MPs’ proposed change.

Failing that, it would seek to push the bill forward by backing a move to gather at least 50,000 signatures from members of the public for constitutional change.

“We think MPs should do our best first,” Move Forward secretary-general Chatawat Tulaton said.

The party reasoned that the amendment process could take a long time. In the meantime, if Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha caves in to pressure and resigns or dissolves the House, the current group of 250 senators could still join MPs in voting on another prime minister and continue to frustrate the will of people, the party says.

It also believes that the demand for a new charter is not coming from the government or senators, but from the pressure from youth rallies in the past month, to the point that some senators have agreed to give up the power of voting on a prime minister in order to avoid a deadlock. 

Move Forward’s biggest hurdle is that it has just 54 votes while at least 98 are required to submit an amendment bill. If Pheu Thai, with 154 votes, doesn’t support the party’s bill, it cannot go it alone.

Pheu Thai, on the other hand, does not want to touch the issue of senators at this stage. It is hoping that its version of the bill would win senators’ support and eventually lead to the setup of a constitution drafting council, which may choose to get rid of appointed senators eventually.

“Why hand them [senators] knives and expect them to slash their own throats?” Sutin Klangsaeng, the Pheu Thai MP for Maha Sarakham and chief opposition whip, quipped during an interview.

Both parties also disagree on chapters 1 on general provisions (Thailand as a unitary state) and chapter 2 on the King in the charter. Pheu Thai wants to make sure at an early stage that no amendments can be made to the two chapters it order to increase its chance of success.

Move Forward wants to keep the options open for the charter drafting council to listen to the views of all groups on the sensitive issues. It also claims Section 255 already prohibits any change to the two sections.

“Voters will make the final decision in a referendum of the new charter,” a party spokesman said.

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