NLA chief defends senators proposal

NLA chief defends senators proposal

The chief of lawmakers has voiced his support for the junta's proposed changes to the constitution draft.

Pornpetch Wichitcholchai, chairman of the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), said on Monday the proposals were not made by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) alone, in an apparent bid to ease pressure on the junta.

They were the outcome of a brainstorm among the "Four Rivers" — the NCPO, NLA, cabinet and National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA).

"Personally, I believe the charter writers would favourably consider them. We thought it through and took into account what happened before May 22, 2014 [when the coup was staged]. Then, senators could not perform their duties and appointed and elected senators locked horns.

"To prevent such problems from recurring, we want the senators to act as a 'brake' for a majority-controlled government," he said.

Mr Pornpetch denied reports the incumbent prime minister would appoint the first batch of senators after the election. "I insist this issue was not discussed at the joint meeting. We only agreed the senators would be screened from knowledgeable and qualified people. In general, the prime minister or the NCPO should have a say."

On Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha's comment last Friday he wanted the senators screened from six groups — security, economy, social affairs, foreign affairs, laws and judicial affairs and reconciliation — Mr Pornpetch declined to comment, saying it was the general's personal opinion.

Asked about a poll's results which split equally between those supporting the idea of giving the active chiefs of the armed forces and the police permanent seats in the senate and those against, Mr Pornpetch said this happened because the charter writers did not allow active state officials to be senators.

"But history has shown us when a crisis occurs, everybody urges the armed forces to stage a coup, which I personally don't think is right."

The Four Rivers meeting therefore thought having the security chiefs in parliament to listen to all views might be a better way.

At a joint meeting on March 7, the Four Rivers discussed proposed changes to the constitution draft and came up with three proposals to be in use for five years after the new constitution is proclaimed to ensure a smooth transition.

The most criticised one is the source of senators. The junta wants all 250 senators appointed or "screened" by a committee of 8-10 people who are "independent and impartial". Of the 250, six will be ex-officio seats for the chiefs of the army, navy, air force, police and the joint armed forces, as well as the defence permanent secretary to "guarantee" security and order is maintained. Other active state officials, however, will be not selected.

The senators won't be allowed to elect a PM. Their main duties are to protect the constitution and steer reforms. But unlike senators in the past 38 years, they will have the power to launch a no-confidence debate against a government. Technically, it can topple any government if the opposition joins hands.  

The second proposal involves the source of a prime minister. The junta wants to do away with the requirement that an outsider can only become PM if his name is proposed before an election as PM candidate by a political party. It wants to keep all options open in case of crises.

Third, the junta wants two voting tickets — one for constituency MPs and the other for parties — like in previous polls. It reasoned the method would help small parties. The composition of the House will remain 350 constituency MPs and 150 party MPs.

The difference between the proposed voting method and the old system is that the junta wants a constituency to be bigger and represented by three MPs. Voters, however, can choose only one candidate and the top three win.

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