Charter change 'all or nothing' for MFP

Charter change 'all or nothing' for MFP

Secretary-general of spiritual successor to disbanded Future Forward Party won't accept compromise over limiting Senate's role in PM selection

The Move Forward Party (MFP) will have its work cut out pushing for a new constitution.

However, the second largest opposition party believes it still has an ace up its sleeve, according to MFP secretary-general Chaithawat Tulathon.

The business of rewriting or drafting a new charter has provoked conflicts even within the opposition camp. Between the government and the opposition camps there are now nine amendment drafts circulating, with many likely to fall at the first hurdle.

One key amendment being sought involves stripping the Senate of its power to co-select a prime minister, although change may prove so difficult that a vote from the Senate itself is required to greenlight a revised constitution.

Yet, in an exclusive interview with the Bangkok Post, Mr Chaithawat reaffirmed the MFP's position that constitutional reform must go all the way or it may as well not be pursued at all.

The party favours a brand-new document and insists the amendments should not spare Chapters 1 and 2. Chapter 1 contains sections defining Thailand as a single, indivisible kingdom with a democratic regime and the King as head of state. Chapter 2 contains sections that deal with royal prerogatives.

But for all-out change to happen, the initial window must first be opened. That is, a draft bill on a referendum has to be passed first, after the second, third and final readings tomorrow.

Assuming the bill is enacted, the MFP will waste no time raising a motion in parliament requesting approval for a referendum to gauge whether there is consensus among the public that the current charter, which opponents have decried as the fruit of coup-makers, should be abrogated to make way for a replacement.

Mr Chaithawat said a referendum has the support of the opposition and several government MPs.

When the opposition proposed the charter rewrite via a constitution drafting assembly (CDA) earlier this year, the matter was forwarded to the Constitutional Court.

It ruled the move was tantamount to drafting a new constitution in which case a referendum must be held before and after the drafting process.

Mr Chaithawat said lawmakers in the government camp who were insistent on having a CDA take charge of the charter rewrite should therefore have no reason to block a referendum bill.

He said the referendum would be a vital vehicle to get the process of drafting a new charter rolling. As a matter of principle, no content should be off-limits to change, including Chapters 1 and 2.

A referendum would provide a mandate from the people and if the bill that governs it cleared parliament, it would settle once and for all the question of how total any rewrite should be.

With regard to the provisions for staging national elections, he said the MFP is in rare agreement with the ruling Palang Pracharath Party and the main opposition Pheu Thai Party that the system of two ballots -- one to vote for a candidate and the other for a party -- should be restored.

The current single-ballot election has been criticised for depriving people of the opportunity to choose the politician they favour for their area, when they vote for the party they wish to see govern the country.

The mixed-member proportional (MMP) representation system under the charter sees ballots cast for constituency candidates also used to calculate party-list seats.

Mr Chaithawat said while the MFP sees the merit of two ballots, it wants list seats to continue to be calculated using the MMP method.

That suggestion, however, has been labelled a self-serving attempt to retain the MFP's political leverage.

In the March 2019 election, the Future Forward Party (FFP) won 30 constituency seats and 50 party-list MPs. It benefited heavily from the MMP calculation.

The MFP now carries the political torch of the FFP after taking in most of its MPs after its disbandment in February last year, which is why it remains half-hearted about abolishing the system, say critics.

Mr Chaithawat, meanwhile, said his party was most eager to straighten out Section 272 to remove the Senate's power to join MPs in electing a prime minister.

He noted that some coalition parties have also jumped on a populist bandwagon to "switch off" the Senate's prime ministerial selection power: "It's going to a quite a fight".

If the PPRP and the Senate refuse to alter the prime ministerial selection process during deliberation of the bills on Wednesday and Thursday, the opposition parties stand a chance of defeating the PPRP's bill in the third and final reading, according to Mr Chaithawat.

"The PPRP can't win them all. It can have its way with the charter rewrite provided it agrees to trim the Senate's role in participating in the prime minister's selection," he said.

Looking closer at the opposition bloc, the MFP secretary-general downplayed a disagreement between his party and Pheu Thai over whether a new charter should be drawn up or the current one revised.

Pheu Thai has lobbied against a wholesale rewrite and maintains Chapters 1 and 2 should be kept off the table.

"There is nothing extraordinary in us seeing things differently. At the end of the day, we have to work together and rally behind the issues we agree with," he said.

Mr Chaithawat said the MFP was not interested in fixing "trivial" charter issues such as the 20-year national strategy which the government adopted as a guideline for running the country's fundamental policies.

He said the PPRP highlighted many small issues in the amendment to confuse people and divert their attention from the parts that matter. "We're only focussing on the bullseye," he added.

The significance of the amendment to Section 272 goes beyond the debate in parliament but needs the backing of the public at large, he said.

Born on Oct 15, 1978, Mr Chaithawat graduated in environmental engineering from Chulalongkorn University. He co-founded the FFP with Thanathorn Jungrungreangkit who went on to lead the party before it was dissolved.

During his time in higher education, he joined the Student Federation of Thailand and served as its secretary-general in 1998 when he befriended Mr Thanathorn and took a keen interest in politics.

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