Jatuporn has a lot to prove

Jatuporn has a lot to prove

Observers think it is superficial to presume UDD chairman's anti-Prayut campaign and Ratsadon protests are one and the same v Chief opposition whip Sutin slams PPRP's charter change draft, which doesn't address the power of the Senate

Jatuporn: Facing first major test
Jatuporn: Facing first major test

United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) chairman Jatuporn Prompan has a lot to prove and his ability to unite anti-government elements is his first major test.

Jatuporn may have felt he has been watching the political events unfold long enough and it was high time he resurrected the red-shirt movement he once co-led a decade ago.

But the political landscape is starkly different now than it was 10 years ago, according to observers.

For starters, the mass protest he launched on April 4 in Bangkok was more or less an extension of the waning youth-led movement under the Ratsadon banner which has fought against the government.

However, the observers thought it would be superficial to generalise and presume that the Jatuporn-led and Ratsadon protests are one and the same.

While the Ratsadon group won't not settle for anything less than reform of the monarchy, which it has trumpeted, the Jatuporn-led protest -- officially called "sammakhi prachachon pheu prathet thai" (People's Unity for Thailand) -- refuses to "go there" and is instead zeroing in on exposing the government's failures and campaigning for Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha's resignation as prime minister.

The observers said that people can expect to see parallel protests over the coming weeks and months, each of them driven by a different agenda.

In fact, on the day of the Jatuporn protest debut, signs emerged of the two groups not playing the protest song to the same tune.

Several Ratsadon members were participating in the Jatuporn protest and when the clock struck six in the evening, the national anthem reverberated through the plaza of Santiporn Park where the protesters had gathered.

For the duration of the anthem, the Ratsadon members flashed their symbolic three-finger salute.

On the stage, however, the protest leaders including Jatuporn stood still while singing the anthem. None of them held up three fingers.

It was reported some protest organisers were far from pleased that the three-finger gesture had been visible at the protest.

Straight away, some Ratsadon supporters took to Twitter and pledged to steer clear of the Jatuporn protests, preferring to stay the course with their own rallies.

In the lead-up to the April 4 campaign premiere, Jatuporn invited elements and factions from right across the colour-coded political divide, who had had enough of Gen Prayut's seven years in power, to join him and help consolidate their resistance against the government.

But while it has been observed that the Jatuporn protest may not strike a chord with Ratsadon, another former red-shirt co-leader Nattawut Saikuar has spoken out in full support of the youth-led movement.

Fresh out of jail, Nattawut declared he was on the young protesters' side while pouring cold water on any prospect of reuniting with his "old pal" Jatuporn with whom he stood shoulder-to-shoulder during the UDD rallies against the Abhisit Vejjajiva government in 2010.

Nattawut was recently freed after completing a prison term of two years and eight months for leading a violent red-shirt protest more than a decade ago outside the residence of the late Privy Council president Prem Tinsulanonda.

The comradeship that once bound the two men together may have waned. Jatuporn said in a media interview that he would step away if Nattawut were to take the helm of revived red-shirt protests.

A political analyst said ousting Gen Prayut would be no easy task because many are sceptical about what would transpire if the Jatuporn campaign succeeded in removing him from office.

The primary concern harboured by many came attached with the risk of Gen Prayut's replacement, whoever that might be, staying truly committed to preserving the status quo and leaving reform of the monarchy off the table.

The analyst said certain doubters were far from convinced that Jatuporn was acting independently in waging the mass protest against the government.

Others have even gone so far as to theorise that the Jatuporn and the Ratsadon groups have been putting on a false pretence of operating as separate entities when they may have actually forged a plan to combine forces after Gen Prayut is out of the picture, which might then leave the monarchy in a vulnerable situation.

Not such a sweet deal?

The ruling Palang Pracharath Party's (PPRP) has picked its big legislative agenda item -- a charter amendment draft covering five points and 13 sections of the constitution.

Sutin: 'Bill sidelines elected MPs'

The bill, sponsored by 110 party MPs, was submitted by PPRP deputy leader and list-MP Paiboon Nititawan to House Speaker Chuan Leekpai on Wednesday.

Mr Paiboon expects the draft to be put on the parliamentary agenda as soon as the next ordinary parliament session convenes in late May.

However, several political observers argue that the PPRP's charter amendment bid is not good enough as it falls short of addressing one of the country's most controversial issues -- the overwhelming power of the military-appointed Senate.

A quick look of the PPRP's bill reveals that it largely seeks changes to the election system -- a shift from the current use of a single ballot for constituency and party-list MPs to two separate ballots.

It also calls for the election of 400 constituency MPs and 100 party-list MPs as opposed to the current composition of 350 constituency MPs and 150 party-list MPs.

Political observers say the PPRP is going for something easy because the election system has been widely criticised from the start and is on every political party's agenda.

However, the observers doubt whether the bill can unite political parties which are busy drafting their own versions of charter amendment bills.

The PPRP's bill is missing Section 272, which allows the Senate to join MPs in the selection of a prime minister and is blamed by many as being the root cause of political problems.

The military-appointed Senate has been a thorn on the side of pro-democracy groups who find it hard to believe the Upper House will choose the public interest over the coup-makers', according to political observers.

Chief opposition whip and Pheu Thai Party MP Sutin Klungsang believes the PPRP's bill continues to sideline MPs who are elected.

Even if the MPs are directly elected and empowered by the charter to choose the prime minister, they do not really have a mandate to decide who will be the prime minister.

The prime ministerial candidates put forward by political parties must get votes of approval from the Senate, according to the Pheu Thai MP.

"The PPRP's charter amendment draft 'doesn't scratch where it itches'. They think they have come up with the sweetest deal by targeting the controversial election system. However, it will only prolong the conflict," he said.

The main opposition Pheu Thai is working on two charter amendment drafts, according to Mr Sutin.

One seeks to amend Section 256 to pave way for the setting up of the charter drafting assembly (CDA) to draw up a new charter and the other targets Section 272 to remove the Senate's power in selecting the prime minister and other clauses relating to the election system.

With a requirement to not one but two referendum to realise a wholesale charter change, the process will take time to complete and so the party thinks it best to seek changes to Section 272 -- just in case a House dissolution occurs.

Based on the Constitutional Court's ruling, parliament has the power to draw up a new charter, but a referendum must be held to decide whether the public wants a new constitution.

And if the people grant parliament its wish and a draft is completed, another referendum must be held so the people can decide whether to endorse it.

"At least the country should have a revised election system in which people can vote for candidates they like and political parties they support. The distribution of party-list seats under the current system is complex and doesn't reflect people's will," he said.

Mr Paiboon has clarified why the party decided to leave Section 272 alone, saying that such a move may lead to a conflict and will not be successful.

If Section 272 is included, the draft is mostly likely to be rejected and the fresh charter amendment bid is wasted, he added.

"We believe the amendments proposed by the PPRP will be more practical [than other parties' drafts] and respond to the needs of the people. The process will take shorter time to finish and no money will be spent holding a referendum," he was quoted as saying.

The PPRP's draft also targets Section 144 to ensure greater transparency in the budgetary system and Section 270 to enable MPs to push for national reforms and national strategies. Currently, only senators have such a role.

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