Anxious Abhisit picks holes in draft charter
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Anxious Abhisit picks holes in draft charter

Section 257 on special powers for NCPO tops Democrat leader's list of worries

Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva says major problems in the draft constitutio require extensive do-overs. (Post Today photo)
Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva says major problems in the draft constitutio require extensive do-overs. (Post Today photo)

In an exclusive interview with the Bangkok Post, Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said he was concerned about a provisional clause in the draft charter which retains the special and sweeping powers of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) under Section 44, even after the general election.

Section 257 of the draft charter stipulates that the NCPO will remain in office until a new cabinet is formed after the general election. While in office, the NCPO and the NCPO chief will retain their full powers stipulated in the 2014 interim charter. Interim charter clauses relating to the powers of the NCPO and its chief will remain in effect. 

Mr Abhisit said this proposed provision will spark confusion and lead to problems regarding the interpretation of the clause. It is not clear what situations the scope of the power will cover and for how long such power will be maintained.

It is believed that the full powers of the NCPO chief and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha include the invocation of the controversial Section 44.

For example, if problems occur after the next general election and the NCPO chief invokes the power under Section 44 to postpone the first sitting of parliament for another year, "Is this possible?'' Mr Abhisit asked.

"An order issued under Section 44 is legally binding and sometimes overrides the constitution itself," Mr Abhisit said.

The former prime minister also said that the rights and liberties under the draft charter are considerably curtailed and could not compare with the previous 2007 charter, which provided more comprehensive rights and freedoms.

The 2007 charter also protected community rights by requiring environmental impact assessment (EIA) and health impact assessment (HIA) studies to be carried out on any project or activity with possible adverse effects on the environment, natural resources and people's health, he said.

Mr Abhisit said the 2007 charter also guaranteed full protection for a free media as well as the right to assembly.

On the contrary, instead of spelling out details covering rights and freedoms, the current draft charter authorises the state to issue other laws to explain the details later.

"The draft charter is retrogressive compared to the 2007 charter," he said.

The Democrat leader also criticised the CDC proposal for the indirect election of 200 senators from 20 professional groups, 10 from each group.

Under this method, the 20 professional groups would vote across the groups to elect members of the Upper House.

For example, senators representing a medical professional group would be elected by a media professional group and senators from the media group would be elected by a group representing lawyers, and so forth.

Mr Abhisit said senators elected in this cross-group voting method would not truly represent their professional groups, and those who want to get elected would likely resort to lobbying for votes. This voting method would also strip the public of their rights to vote for senators, he added.

He suggested that senators should be elected directly by each professional group, instead of the cross-voting method. For example, a professional group of lawyers should be allowed to elect senators from among their own group.

Mr Abhisit also disagreed with the CDC's proposal requiring each political party to provide a list of up to three prime ministerial candidates before elections, which would open the way for a non-elected premier.

He said that while the previous draft by the Borwornsak Uwanno-led charter panel allowed for a non-elected prime minister to step in to solve political crises, the CDC led by Meechai Ruchupan does not intend for non-elected premier to solve any political conflict.

"This non-elected prime minister [under the draft charter] is still a person supported by a particular political party,'' Mr Abhisit said.

He also said the proposed election system involving a single ballot for both constituency and party-list systems does not truly reflect voters' intentions as it does not allow them to freely make a choice as to whether to vote for constituency or party-list candidates.

However, Mr Abhisit believed Mr Meechai is willing to listen to suggestions to improve the draft.

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