Charter review panel to debut Wednesday

Charter review panel to debut Wednesday

Opposition-free body to study six bills, as Jatuporn warns delay could backfire

Protesters tie white ribbons at the main gate of the parliament compound on Thursday as they put pressure on lawmakers to vote for charter amendments. (Photo by Nutthawat Wicheanbut)
Protesters tie white ribbons at the main gate of the parliament compound on Thursday as they put pressure on lawmakers to vote for charter amendments. (Photo by Nutthawat Wicheanbut)

A panel formed to study six constitutional amendment proposals will begin work on Wednesday amid increasingly strained relations among the coalition parties, following a vote to delay a parliamentary vote on charter change.

Wirat Rattanaset, the government’s chief whip, said on Friday that the panel would have one month to complete its assignment.

The Palang Pracharath Party MP said the scope of the review would be limited to the six versions tabled for debate in a joint session of the House and Senate on Wednesday and Thursday this week. That means the “people’s draft” draft submitted by Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw) will be off the table.

The iLaw petition had 100,000 signatures, double the legal minimum required for a public petition to be considered. It was not on the agenda this week because House Speaker Chuan Leekpai said earlier that more time would be needed to verify the signatures.

Mr Chuan said on Thursday that the bill sponsored by the rights advocacy group could be on the agenda of the next parliamentary session. Parliament went into recess on Thursday and lawmakers will come back again in November. Deputy Prime Minister Wisanu Krea-ngam said on Friday that the decision to delay the vote on charter change could open up a slim chance for the iLaw bill to be in the line-up with the six drafts prepared by government and opposition politicians. 

MPs and senators voted on Thursday night to delay votes on all the drafts as they felt a need for both houses to study the changes further.

The opposition and activists who gathered outside Parliament on Thursday condemned the move as an attempt by the government to drag its feet. Opposition parties walked out of the chamber before the panel’s membership was decided. Consequently, it has no opposition representation.

The Democrat Party, which has frequently appeared ill at ease in the coalition, also rejected the attempt to delay a vote, with only two MPs voting yes and the rest voting no.

Democrat leader Jurin Laksanawisit on Friday defended his party's decision to break ranks with other coalition parties, saying the Democrats were against a delay but would sit on the review committee.

Bhumjaithai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul said his party would vote for the charter amendment bills after they go from the committee to the next joint parliamentary session.

Mr Anutin said Bhumjaithai voted in favour of setting up the review panel to show the common stance of the coalition camp, but the party will support an amendment process that opens the way for the creation of a new body of charter writers.

Jatuporn Prompan, chairman of the red-shirt United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship, warned in a Facebook message about escalating political tensions after the pro-government lawmakers temporarily postponed the vote on charter change.

“People will stand up (to support charter change) because of the failure of the parliamentary mechanism,” he wrote.

Senators and MPs of the government camp were booed by protesters as they left Parliament after the end of the session late Thursday. Some legislators fled via a rear exit from the parliament complex and left the scene via boats on the Chao Phraya River.

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