Charter referendum plan still up in the air
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Charter referendum plan still up in the air

MFP says Pheu Thai govt wasting time

The Democracy Monument is seen between two policemen assigned to monitor an anti-government rally on Oct 14, 2021. (Photo: Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)
The Democracy Monument is seen between two policemen assigned to monitor an anti-government rally on Oct 14, 2021. (Photo: Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)

Concerns are mounting about the fortunes of the proposed referendum on changing the charter, amid claims from the Move Forward Party (MFP) that the government is dragging its feet on the issue.

Whether a referendum should be held is still subject to discussion, according to Deputy Prime Minister Phumtham Wechayachai, who has been put in charge of forming a panel to study plans for the referendum.

He made the comment after the cabinet convened its first meeting on Wednesday.

The inaugural cabinet meeting focused on policies deemed urgent, including the push to democratise the current charter, which many observers say is a remnant of the 2014 coup.

Mr Phumtham, who is also commerce minister, said a number of academics and interest groups have offered to help redesign the charter.

"However, their stances [on what needs to be amended] vastly differ," he said.

Mr Phumtham also said the government doesn't want the effort to amend the charter to be hamstrung by legal and technical obstacles, as it was under the previous administration.

He was referring to the attempts to push for a charter amendment by many parties, which were dropped after the Constitutional Court ruled that a referendum must be held first to decide if the constitution should be rewritten.

Meanwhile, MFP list-MP Parit Wacharasindhu said the government's move to set up a referendum study panel is just an attempt to buy time.

He pointed to a pledge made by the ruling Pheu Thai Party on Aug 2 to hold a referendum on charter amendment, when it added that the public will be involved in the setting up of the charter-redrafting assembly.

However, the government appeared to be backsliding on its commitment to a charter rewrite, Mr Parit said.

The MP said the study panel will be formed by a prime ministerial order, not by a cabinet resolution, which demands stronger legal compliance.

The push for a constitutional amendment has gone through trials and tribulations in parliament.

In February 2021, both Houses agreed members of a charter-redrafting assembly should all be elected.

The agreement was made during the second reading of the bill on amending the charter in parliament.

However, in the third and final reading, some parties and senators voted down the bill, citing the Constitutional Court's ruling on the referendum.

In a bid to revive the amendment, the MFP and Pheu Thai, which were in the opposition at the time, jointly raised a motion to invoke the Referendum Act in the hopes of kick-starting the charter amendment drive.

In February, the motion was dropped by the Senate.

Some senators were worried arranging a referendum on the same day as the general election on May 14, as several lawmakers had suggested, would be impractical.

Mr Parit said the cabinet has the power to enforce the Referendum Act to bypass the Senate and begin the push for a constitutional amendment.

"Instead, the government chose to set up a referendum study panel, a process which is unnecessary," he said.

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