Draft charter 'steals democracy'

Draft charter 'steals democracy'

Abhisit says CDC has it wrong and blueprint will only lead to more conflict

The draft constitution is fraught with flaws as the constitution drafters have come up with the wrong solutions that will only snatch democracy from the people, Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva says.

He said the new charter, which is now in its formative stage, is a retrograde step and will lead to fresh rounds of political conflicts.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with the Bangkok Post, the former prime minister said a referendum must be held on the new charter to ensure its legitimacy.

The referendum will also help prevent any suspicion the charter is designed to allow the coup makers and other coup-installed bodies set up after the May 22 coup to prolong their hold on power after the new charter is promulgated and after the next election is held.

The Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) is expected to submit the first draft of the new constitution to the National Reform Council (NRC) for consideration by April 17.

The final draft is expected to be ready for promulgation in September, with a further three months allowed to issue relevant laws and seek royal endorsement. As a result, elections could be called for as early as February next year. 

Mr Abhisit said the new charter is not the answer to the political problems that need to be addressed.

He said several clauses in the new charter are a step backwards for democracy, particularly the German-style voting system -  the mixed member proportional representation (MMP) system - which has been adopted by the CDC.

He said the new voting system will weaken political parties but strengthen the power of the executive branch.

Mr Abhisit said the problems that have beset the country that culminated in the coup had nothing to do with the content of the previous 2007 charter itself. The real problem was disregard for the spirit of the country's supreme law, he said.

When the coup was staged, there was pressure mounting for changes in a new constitution. If the coup-makers had kept the charter that was in place at the time, people would have asked why have a coup?

He said the new charter, which is being drawn up, does not tackle problems in the right way.

The irrational election system

He also opposed proposals to cut the number of MPs from 500 to between 450 and 470 under the MMP system.

Under this model, 250 MPs will be drawn from constituencies and 200 from the party list, for a total of 450 MPs in all.

He said the charter drafters have failed to explain how the reduced number of MPs would help promote democracy.

Mr Abhisit said this system is originally intended to ensure all votes are counted and parties are fairly represented in parliament, and that the number of constituency MPs and party list MPs should be equal.

But it seems the CDC did not think this way, he said.

He said the system designed by the CDC will create conflict between constituency MPs and party list MPs in the same party because they will have to vie for more votes. 

Mr Abhisit also disagreed with a proposal to prohibit constituency MPs from becoming cabinet ministers.

In countries with a parliamentary system, cabinet ministers have not been chosen from outsiders, he said.

''These outsider ministers do not have to be accountable to the public. If they make mistakes, they just leave and vanish. But if MPs commit wrongdoings, they will have to explain to their voters and they will also be attacked by their opponents,'' Mr Abhisit said.

Regarding the provision to allow the appointment of a non-elected outsider prime minister endorsed by the CDC, Mr Abhisit agreed this is possible when the country faces an unusual situation.

But he maintained this provision should not apply in a normal situation, adding the provision should be more specific about the cases where a non-elected premier would be appointed to solve the country's crises. The appointment of the outsider MPs may require support from at least three quarters of parliament's members, Mr Abhisit suggested.

Parties should be stronger

Mr Abhisit said the charter drafters wrongly believe that political parties must be weakened.

He said the charter drafters favour small parties and encourage coalition government while blunting the power of big parties, and strictly controlling party policies.

He said the CDC has come up with provisions that give the executive branch more power.

For example, if the government loses a no-confidence vote, it has to dissolve the House of Representatives.

''Why should the opposition want to participate in a censure debate if it wins a no-confidence vote, but the House is dissolved?'' he said.

Another example is that under the new charter the executive branch will be given the power to fast-track certain legislative bills, but if such bills are rejected by the House, the prime minister can also dissolve the House.

''This is a step backward for democracy. It will snatch democracy away from the people,'' Mr Abhisit said.

The right approach is to strengthen political parties and ensure parties really belong to the people, not party financiers, who only care about their benefits, Mr Abhisit said.

''What is right is that parties must be strong and the executive branch must be scrutinised effectively,'' he said.

He opposes the CDC's proposal to encourage a coalition government comprising small parties, saying this will enable civil servants to dictate how party policies will be formulated.

Mr Abhisit said most civil servants are conservative, and it is wrong to allow them a major role in pushing for policies. 

"Nowhere in the world have I ever seen conservatives pushing for reform,'' he said.

Mr Abhisit also rejected calls for the Democrat Party and the Pheu Thai Party to kiss and make up and form a coalition to ease the political conflict.

"This is not a way out for the country,'' he said.

"If the Democrats had joined Pheu Thai to form a coalition government after the 2011 election, would the Democrat Party have been asked to accept Pheu Thai's rice-pledging scheme, and the amnesty bill?'' he said.

Political groups

Mr Abhisit also spoke out against a proposal to allow political groups to register and send candidates to run for elections, describing it as a double standard.

He said while parties will be controlled by the Election Commission and various regulations, political groups would not be governed by the same rules.

Senate poll, ethics panel

Mr Abhisit criticised the proposed indirect Senate election, and a proposed national ethics assembly, saying they would be out of touch with the public, but stand to be given much power.

Under the new charter, the next Senate, which will be indirectly elected from pools of candidates nominated by ex-politicians and former high-ranking state officials, will be authorised to impeach MPs and political office-holders who are elected by the people.

''Those who will act on behalf of the people should also be given a mandate by the people,'' Mr Abhisit said. Regarding the national ethics assembly, Mr Abhisit asked how the assembly will judge what is ethical, or who would be chosen to sit on it.

Referendum is a must

Mr Abhisit insisted the draft of the new charter must be endorsed in a referendum.

''If it is not passed, the new charter will perpetuate conflict, particularly in matters relating to administration of power. No reform will last without legitimacy from the public,'' he said.

He argued a referendum will give the public an opportunity to make their choice and dispel any suspicions it was designed to allow the coup makers to stay on in power.

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