People 'need not fear' the new charter

People 'need not fear' the new charter

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam (left): No charter in the world is fully democratic. (Photo by Thanarak Khunton)
Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam (left): No charter in the world is fully democratic. (Photo by Thanarak Khunton)

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam has rejected concerns that the latest draft of the constitution will limit a future government's control, and that extra powers given to state oversight agencies would be needed to avoid a "crisis panel".

Mr Wissanu defended the latest effort, released on Friday, saying no constitutions anywhere were completely democratic.

The first draft prepared by Meechai Ruchupan's Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) was revealed to the public after four months of preparation.

Mr Wissanu said the draft would strengthen independent bodies and eliminate the need for a crisis panel.

The "crisis panel" was proposed by the previous constitution drafting committee led by Borwornsak Uwanno. Intended as a means to break a political impasse, it was immediately attacked for having the power to override the government.

Mr Wissanu, one of the country's top legal experts, said oversight power is given to the Constitutional Court and independent agencies like the National Anti-Corruption Commission, the Election Commission, the National Human Rights Commission and the ombudsman.

Their powers are specific because they are assigned specific tasks. At the end of the day, they cannot cross their legal boundaries to interfere in the government's work, he said, insisting none have excessive power.

He said the Constitutional Court, which has been criticised for being too potent, deliberates cases based on the law and intent. "There are no constitutions in the world, nor previous Thai charters, that are fully democratic."

Mr Wissanu said the 1974 constitution, adopted after the 1973 student uprising and hailed as the best, was used for just two years before it was scrapped.

"So what do you expect from this one? In the past, a constitution dubbed half-democratic, or 'half-full', turned out to be of service for many years," he said.

"The 1932 constitution, adopted after the 1932 change to a constitutional monarchy, wasn't outstanding or democratic. But it suited the Thai people's style and context. It was used for 14 years, the longest serving constitution."

Mr Wissanu dismissed concerns that Section 44, which gives the prime minister absolute power in decision making, would affect election campaigns. Instead of looking at the downside, he said Section 44 could help make an election more free and fair.

The latest charter draft allows the National Council for Peace and Order to use Section 44 of the 2014 interim charter until the new government is sworn in.

Mr Wissanu said anything established by the new charter could not be overridden or scrapped by Section 44. In the case of election fraud, Section 44 could not be used to nullify the election.

The charter draft is expected to go before the cabinet on Tuesday. The cabinet will give feedback and suggestions to the CDC by Feb 15 so the draft can be revised and completed by the deadline of March 29.

Mr Meechai, addressing a seminar on the charter, reforms and public participation yesterday, said the draft addresses three problems that are hurting the country: a lack of discipline; lax law enforcement; and widespread corruption.

He said the draft stipulates clearly what is deemed to be corrupt and immoral and introduces mechanisms to effectively keep corrupt people away from politics.

The NACC will have more power to curb corruption and the anti-graft law, one of 10 organic laws to be drafted, is expected to get harsher penalties.

Pheu Thai Party deputy secretary general Chawalit Wichayasut said the CDC has chosen to highlight anti-corruption mechanisms to mislead the people.

He said the charter draft had been written to help the coup makers hand power to people they trust under clauses allowing NCPO members to contest elections and the NCPO chief to retain Section 44.

The draft allows a non-MP to be nominated as prime minister and introduces an election system that will weaken political parties. Mr Chawalit called on the CDC to revise the draft or it will not pass the referendum and 3 billion baht will be wasted.

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