CDC hands public final draft of new constitution to public

CDC hands public final draft of new constitution to public

CDC chairman Meechai Ruchupan holds a copy of the draft charter at a news conference on Tuesday. (Photo by Chanat Katanyu)
CDC chairman Meechai Ruchupan holds a copy of the draft charter at a news conference on Tuesday. (Photo by Chanat Katanyu)

The Constitution Drafting Committee on Tuesday handed over to the junta its final draft of the country’s new constitution, which will see its fate decided in an Aug 7 public referendum.

CDC chairman Meechai Ruchupan told a news conference on Tuesday that his panel had wrapped up nearly six months of work on the 279-section charter a few days ahead of its April 1 deadline.

The proposed charter is available for download (PDF) from the Government House website.

Following completion of its first draft of the constitution Jan 29, the CDC went out to explain the gist of the document to about 30 forums and received 258 letters of suggestions and opinions from various groups.

Feedback received was used to amend 88 sections of the first draft and some sections were cut. After deletions and additions, the final document totalled 279 sections.

Changes mostly were made to provisions on public rights and liberties, state policy and the national reforms, based on suggestions from the people and private organisations.

Mr Meechai said that although the final draft does not state that the people must reign supreme, all of its provisions are intended to benefit the people, bring about equality, do away with disparities and protect people's rights and liberties.

"We adhere to Buddhadasa Bhikkhu's teaching which says that democracy is not for the people to reign supreme, but for them to get the most benefits," Mr Meechai said.

Regarding rights and liberties, the CDC tried to state that concisely in the first draft. But after public meetings, the CDC made some adjustments to expand protections.

Concerning religion, there were calls for Buddhism to be made the national religion. However, the CDC believed doing so could lead to many problems.  It therefore went only as far as requiring the state to promote the study and dissemination of the Theravada sect of Buddhism, creating mechanisms to protect Buddhism from all forms of destruction.

Regarding politics, the CDC aims for the people to participate in political activities and effectively exercise their political rights without giving emphasis on the interests of any particular parties. The decisions to use a single electoral ballot and requiring political parties to declare three candidates for prime minister were made with that goal in mind, he said.

"We don't see it as intentionally trying to dilute one party or to create a coalition government," CDC spokesman Norachit Sinhaseni told reporters. "We see it as a return to a period where you don't have people confronting each other on the streets. That is what the majority of Thais want."

On preventing corruption, the final draft bars those who have been found guilty of election fraud and malfeasance in office from any role in politics.

Mr Meechai said the CDC will finish a summary of the final draft constitution within 15 days and will forward it to the Election Commission to distribute to the public ahead of the August referendum.

The Election Commission said it expects 80% of eligible voters to turn out for the referendum.

Critics say it the proposed constitution is aimed squarely at breaking the electoral stranglehold on the country by allies of fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister, ex-premier Yingluck.

Its most controversial clause is a provisional one that sets up a 250-member unelected Senate which will include top military commanders.

"It is a charter which expands military and judicial power at the expense of democracy," Paul Chambers, a Thailand-based academic, told AFP.

"Because of the transition period outlined in the new charter, military rule in Thailand could well extend to eight years: 2014-2017 of direct military rule; 2017-2022 of military veto power" through the Senate, he added.

A senior figure within the Shinawatras' Pheu Thai party told AFP recently it was "highly likely" they would tell supporters to vote against the charter in the referendum.

Pheu Thai's bitter rival the Democrat Party has yet to say what it will advise voters. But earlier this month its leader, former Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, publicly hit out at the document as lacking in "democratic standards".

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