First charter draft comes under fire

First charter draft comes under fire

Ex-NRC member Sombat says new parliamentary structure is flawed, outdated

The Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) will release the revised first draft of the 270-section new constitution Friday, in the face of mounting opposition from critics.

Academics have slammed the draft's controversial elements while politicians are threatening to derail it in the July referendum.

This is a cause for concern for the military government which is struggling to push for the draft to sail through the referendum.

The charter drafters still have time over the next two months to gather feedback from the public as well as from the draft's critics and supporters to fine-tune the document.

The CDC must then come up with a final draft of the new charter by early April, in line with a 180-day time frame for charter drafting as required by the interim charter, after which preparations will get under way for the referendum scheduled for July.

The CDC on Wednesday finalised the draft charter's 17 provisional clauses, which will pave the way for the military government to remain in power for 15 more months if the new constitution is promulgated as hoped in August.

The draft charter referendum if passed in July, is expected to receive royal endorsement the following month.

Sombat Thamrongthanyawong, a former member of the defunct National Reform Council, told the Bangkok Post that the structure of parliament set out under the draft charter is flawed and outdated and goes against the principles of democracy.

A case in point is the CDC's proposed provision requiring each political party to provide a list of up to three prime ministerial candidates before elections, with parliament then choosing the prime minister from the combined list after the election. 

Political parties and academics have criticised the idea, saying this would pave the way for a non-elected prime minister to come to power. "This shows the CDC does not understand the democratic system," Mr Sombat said.

Mr Sombat also slammed the CDC proposal for a single ballot paper for both constituency and party-list MPs, saying no political parties would win an outright majority in the House under this single-ballot system.

The seats would be shared among major parties which will subsequently win less seats. This would result in a weak, unstable coalition government which the prime minister would not be able to control because of a lack of majority support in the House, Mr Sombat said.

"This draft charter attempts to prevent a repeat of political crises that gripped the previous government by resorting to creating a weak coalition which is not a good solution," Mr Sombat said.

He also criticised the CDC proposal for the indirect election of 200 senators with 20 professional groups electing their own candidates for the Upper House.

This method underscores the lack of democracy as voters are sidelined from choosing candidates, Mr Sombat said.

While the draft charter has also been praised for improving and strengthening graft-fighting capabilities, Mr Sombat did not think this would yield any effective results because several anti-graft bodies, such as the National Anti-Corruption Commission, are badly in need of improvement.

These agencies have been in existence since the 1997 constitution and for nearly 20 years have rarely achieved satisfactory results, Mr Sombat said.

Observers also noted that the CDC has tried to come up with "selling points" to attract voters to support the draft.

They include a provision that guarantees the rights and freedom of the people by requiring the state to take concrete steps to make this happen, such as allowing the public access to state information.

This provision also means that state officials could face legal action if they fail to do so.

A CDC source said the CDC also has a key task to come up with more rigorous measures to stamp out graft as required by the interim charter.

These include a life ban from politics imposed on politicians who commit electoral fraud and a measure to prevent poll candidates from making election campaign pledges involving populism.

Under the draft charter, the Election Commission's local branches are authorised to halt elections where suspected electoral fraud is detected, without needing to seek approval from the central commission.

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam on Thursday attempted to allay concerns about the delay in staging the general election which could be pushed back to November next year.

Mr Wissanu said the time-frame could be shortened so elections could be held earlier if the CDC gives priority to drawing up only five key organic laws directly relating to the elections.

The new time frame was revealed after the CDC on Wednesday finalised the draft charter's provisional clauses, which push the poll schedule to between July and November next year.

Under the new time frame, the CDC will spend eight months drawing up the charter's 10 draft organic laws.

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