Fate of iLaw bill hangs in balance

Fate of iLaw bill hangs in balance

(Bangkok Post file photo)
(Bangkok Post file photo)

Coalition parties say they remain undecided whether to accept the constitution amendment bill submitted by Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw), saying they would wait to hear iLaw defend the bill in Parliament first.

A joint sitting of the Senate and the House will debate on the iLaw bill and vote on whether to accept any or all of seven constitution amendment bills for consideration — the so-called first reading — on Tuesday and Wednesday. 

The Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP) and the coalition whip on Monday said they would accept the first and second bills, abstain on the third to sixth, and wait for iLaw to defend the seventh bill in Parliament before deciding whether to vote for it.

Six of the bills had been debated earlier before the House went into recess. Only the iLaw bill had not been discussed at the same time because a process to check the names of its supporters took time.

The opposition, meanwhile, said it would support all seven bills in the first reading. The Move Forward Party went further, saying the iLaw version should be used as the core one.

Of the seven, the iLaw version, also called the people’s bill since it had been submitted by iLaw on behalf of 96,000 people, is the most controversial and runs the highest risk of being scrapped.

This is mainly because, unlike the others, the iLaw bill doesn’t restrict the chapters and sections to be amended. The other versions, including those from opposition parties, make clear from the onset no changes can be made to Chapters 1 and 2 of the charter.

Chapter 1 involves the form of government while Chapter 2 is on the King.

iLaw says it does not favour or oppose changes made to the chapters — it simply wants to leave the options open for the constitution drafting council elected by the people.

The non-government organisation has already been accused of accepting foreign funds and some groups have challenged the validity of the 96,000 names it claimed to represent.

All of the bills proposed that a constitution drafting council should be set up and elected by people. The differences are the PPRP version wants 75% of the members elected, the rest should be experts and interest groups screened by experts. The other versions proposed it be 100% elected, although details may be different.

The seven bills are the first step to rewrite the charter.  They mainly focus on what changes are to be made to the constitution in effect now so a new one could be rewritten and what changes should be made in the interim — they don’t go into details on the content of the new constitution.

The first bill, by opposition parties, sets up a constitution drafting council with 200 members, all elected.

The second bill, by coalition parties, also sets up a 200-member constitution drafting council, but 150 of them are elected and 50 are appointed. 

The third bill, by opposition parties, revokes the power of senators to monitor, suggest and speed up national reform and check compliance with the national strategy.

 The fourth bill, by opposition parties, disallows senators to vote to choose a prime minister.

The sixth bill, by opposition parties, uses the two-ballot electoral system where a voter can separately choose an MP and a party.

The seventh bill, by iLaw, proposes changes in 10 areas such as revoking the power of the National Council for Peace and Order and a fully elected senate. (see chart below)

People's Movement protesters have made clear they support the iLaw bill and plan to march to Parliament on Tuesday to monitor the vote amid tight security.

Meanwhile, MP and senators say they will vote freely and will not let themselves be pressured by any group.

Thai Pakdee, an ultraroyalist group, also said on Monday it opposed any charter amendment as it views a constitution drafting council could write a charter that undermines royal powers or the monarchy. Besides, a rewrite of the constitution would benefit only politicians, not the people, it said.

The group does not oppose amending the charter by section.

It planned to submit a letter to the parliament president to remind him some 130,000 people had signed to oppose charter amendments.

The group will also ask the Constitutional Court through the attorney-general to stop parliamentarians from proceeding with the setup of a constitution drafting council, saying the move is tantamount to exercising one’s freedom to topple democracy with the king as head of state.

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