Charter change debate begins

Charter change debate begins

Parliament President Chuan Leekpai chairs the parliamentary session on constitutional amendment bills at the parliament in Bangkok on Tuesday. (Photo by Chanat Katanyu)
Parliament President Chuan Leekpai chairs the parliamentary session on constitutional amendment bills at the parliament in Bangkok on Tuesday. (Photo by Chanat Katanyu)

The parliament on Tuesday opened a debate on bills to amend the constitution, with a vote expected on Wednesday evening, while a group of activists gathered outside the building to oppose any change.

Lawmakers from both the House and Senate will vote if the parliament accepts any of the seven constitutional amendment bills submitted for deliberation.

The parliament was heavily guarded, with access restricted, because several groups of demonstrators were expected to show up -- to either support or oppose constitutional change.

Parliament President Chuan Leekpai said he did not expect any obstruction to the parliament's consideration of the charter change bills.

Government chief whip Wirach Ratanasate said the parliament was likely to spend about 14 hours considering the bills and then vote on whether to accept any of them for deliberation by Wednesday evening.

Some demonstrators from the Thai Pakdee (Loyal Thais) Group appeared outside the parliament on Tuesday morning to oppose any charter change. They also planned to ask the Constitutional Court to halt the constitutional amendment process.

Six separate drafts of a new charter were previously submitted by MPs from both the coalition government and opposition camp, and then debated extensively by MPs and senators in late September. However, a vote was postponed due to a proposal by a group of senators and government MPs to form a panel to study the drafts.

The seventh draft, proposed by civil group Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw) and initially supported by 100,000 people, has been assured of getting its fair share of debate time after clearing the verification process.

Three of the seven drafts, including iLaw's version, seek changes to Section 256 of the constitution in order to pave the way for a charter drafting assembly to be set up.

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