Khunying Sudarat slams draft charter

Khunying Sudarat slams draft charter

Thai Rak Thai co-founder says watchdogs could vie to bring down government

Khunying Sudarat says CDC leader Meechai Ruchupan (above) has given excessive powers to independent agencies in the new constitution. (Photo by Chanat Katanyu)
Khunying Sudarat says CDC leader Meechai Ruchupan (above) has given excessive powers to independent agencies in the new constitution. (Photo by Chanat Katanyu)

The draft charter is giving independent agencies too much power to monitor or reject policies floated to woo voters during election campaigns, says Khunying Sudarat Keyurapan, the former deputy leader of the defunct Thai Rak Thai Party.

The draft charter may include tougher measures to combat corruption but it also entrusts independent agencies with excessive powers, which can be disruptive to the national administration, said Khunying Sudarat in an interview with the Bangkok Post.

She disagreed with the Constitutional Court and independent agencies such as the Election Commission (EC), the National Anti-Corruption Commission and the Office of the Auditor-General being authorised to screen and even approve parties' campaign policies. 

The agencies' ability to pre-screen the policies with the intent to prevent reckless, budget-wasting populist practices, if and when the parties become government, will do more harm than good for the country, Khunying Sudarat said. 

This vetting role would get in the way of parties delivering the policies promised to voters, obstructing the affairs of state.

It also would undermine the national administration regardless of which parties are in charge of the government, added Khunying Sudarat who, according to political observers, could lead the Pheu Thai Party into an election battle in the middle of next year.

"The new constitution should be here to stay and not get torn up later," she said, adding the country has no more time to waste rewriting another charter.

The country has the legislative, executive and judicial branches in place to ensure checks and balances. However, the draft charter is giving independent agencies a role they should not have in making decisions over what policies parties can or cannot plan for the future. 

In the interest of transparency, the draft charter should state outright how much the government can spend on policies it promoted during elections, subject to prior approval from parliament, said Khunying Sudarat. 

The EC, for example, should not assess the viability of campaign policies because it lacks knowledge in economic matters. 

She predicts if the EC starts exercising its power in reviewing campaign policies, other independent agencies will do the same. Once the parties win office, such a "power race" would be bent on finding fault and would cripple the government.

The independent agencies should step in to investigate after problems that have been raised, she said. The charter should not be drafted to "pick on" certain people at the expense of the benefit of society. "It's unthinkable that we should set fire to the entire field just to catch a mouse," Khunying Sudarat said. 

If the independent agencies could overrule a government, some would try to amend the charter to prevent it.

Graft busting should be done through existing channels and powers, with access opened to people to help them fight corruption. The public should be invited to observe the handover of projects from private companies to the state. 

The draft charter appears to belittle the people, fearing they might make the wrong choice at the election. This explains the one-ballot system of electing MPs which restricts voters' freedoms by preventing them from choosing a constituency candidate of one party and a different political party for the party list. 

The single-ballot vote under a new election system is thought to favour medium-sized parties. However, Khunying Sudarat said public sentiment might shift and more people might vote for the larger parties. Under the new system, small parties would be marginalised with voters unable to cast a separate ballot for them in the party list. 

Khunying Sudarat said she believed Pheu Thai probably would retain its support base and emerge as the biggest party after the next general election. But even if it gains the most seats in the poll, it would not be able to fulfill some campaign promises and would become weak under the administrative structure laid out by the draft charter. 

She added the charter referendum to take place at the end of July could be conducted partly through internet voting to save time and money.

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