First constitution draft unveiled
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First constitution draft unveiled

Meechai Ruchupan, chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee, displays the first draft of the charter at Parliament on Friday. (Photo by Seksan Rojjanametakun)
Meechai Ruchupan, chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee, displays the first draft of the charter at Parliament on Friday. (Photo by Seksan Rojjanametakun)

Writers unveiled the first draft of the constitution on Friday afternoon, with 270 sections in total.

Meechai Ruchupan, chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC), said the 15-chapter draft took 77 working days to write and would be an "anti-corruption charter" that won't whitewash wrongdoers.

"We're open to suggestions to pave the way for the full draft," he said at the launch at Parliament.

The 15 chapters cover general provisions; the monarchy; rights and liberties; duties of the people; duties of the state; state policies; parliament; cabinet; conflicts of interests; courts; constitutional court; constitutional organs or independent organisations; public prosecutor organisation, local government; and amendments and provisional clauses.

"Given the limited time, we have drafted the best constitution within the 2014 interim charter's framework. We want it to be the charter that can efficiently suppress corruption and does not whitewash wrongdoers," said Mr Meechai.

Asked how he would describe the charter, Mr Meechai said he would call it the "reform constitution".

The first draft, which is available for download at Parliament's website, comes in a 94-page pdf file in the Thai language only.

Some of the most contentious points in the draft lie in its provisional clauses, which govern how power will change hands.

First, the draft effectively lengthens the roadmap to a general election to 23 months from 20 months outlined by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-ocha earlier.

The roadmap was changed from 6-4-6-4 months to 6-4-8-5 months — six months for drafting the charter (almost complete), four for preparing for a referendum, eight for drafting 10 organic laws and five to prepare the election (Section 259).

The change came a few days after Gen Prayut announced he would make sure the election was held in July 2017 regardless of whether the draft was endorsed in the referendum.

One of the constitution writers said the CDC had its own version of the roadmap while the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) had another.

Critics said the change was unreasonable since no constitution writers in the past ever took more than six months to complete organic laws and some completed them in three months.

Almost equally contentious is the provisional clause (Section 257) that would give the NCPO the same powers as it has today during the run-up to the election even though the new charter would already have been promulgated. This means Section 44 of the 2014 interim charter, which gives Gen Prayut sweeping powers, can still be used.

"It’s true that the NCPO chief can use Section 44 until the new government is sworn in but he can only do so under the new constitution. That means he can’t use it to scrap the new charter," explained Mr Meechai, who is also an NCPO member.

"So long as the NCPO exists, we have to give it the powers it currently has or it can't do its job.”

The third issue involves the provisional clauses (Sections 255-258) that allow the existing members of the “four rivers” to run in senator or MP elections if they resign from their existing positions 90 days after the charter is promulgated. The four rivers are the NCPO, the National Legislative Assembly, the cabinet and the National Reform Steering Assembly.

The only exception is the CDC members who cannot run for elections for two years (Section 259).

Mr Meechai said these people should not be banned for long because they did not write the charter. "They just proposed ideas to us. It’s not fair to ban them for that,” he said.

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