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A Constitution in crisis

Parliament is set to vote on the appointment of a panel to study the Charter and recommend amendments, but does this risk making it even more undemocratic? Experts think it might

Jintana Panyaarvudh

Thailandtoday.co

The 20th Constitution of Thailand has been effective for almost three years yet despite having been adopted in a national referendum, all concerned parties and civic groups think the current Constitution needs amendment.

Several aspects of the current charter are regarded as undemocratic, for example, the power given to the Senate to join the lower house in voting for a Prime Minister or forcing the government to stick with the junta’s 20-year national strategies blueprint.

And now, the door is about to open for a review of the current charter.

On Wednesday (December 11), the House is scheduled to consider a motion filed by Opposition parties proposing the setting up of an ad-hoc committee to study amendments to the Constitution.

If the House votes in favour of setting up a panel, the committee would then take around 45-60 days to finish its review and should it agree on changes, the amendment process would start immediately after.

Political observers believe the House will vote in favour of the motion but are concerned that the amendments could render the Constitution more undemocratic than the current one.

“I have very little confidence [in the charter amendment] because for as long as the government still controls the process, the amendments won’t make the charter more democratic. They could even make it worse”, Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of political science at Ubon Ratchathani University, tells Thailandtoday.co.

He believes that the ruling and coalition parties would block any change in the charter if it does away with the advantages it currently accords them.

“Don’t forget that the undemocratic part of the charter allowed the Phalang Pracharat to win the March election and form a government,” he adds.

In his view, the charter amendment would mean nothing but would be exploited by those political parties to claim that they had allowed it to be amended.

Moreover, since Thailand is still divided, it’s unlikely that the country would get a more democratic charter.

The problem is that the government still has support from various sectors and they would obstruct moves to turn Thailand into a truly democratic country, Titipol adds.

Room for hope despite the difficult road ahead

There is, however, always room for hope, but much depends on if and how society unites to put pressure on the lawmakers to make the charter more democratic.

“I know it’s hard to have hope but it’s not impossible. Do you remember the campaign for the so-called People’s charter in 1997?” says Yuthaporn Issarachai, a political scientist from the Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University.

Yuthaporn is referring to the action taken by Thais nationwide who joined forces to campaign for the 1997 Constitution by raising green flags as a symbol. The charter is often called the “People’s Constitution”, as it was considered a landmark in terms of the degree of public participation involved in its drafting as well as the democratic nature of its articles.

“A campaign like that would push the lawmakers to listen to people’s voices [for a democratic charter]. Without that force, I don’t see a chance,” Yuthaporn told Thailandtoday.co.

However, even if the House votes to set up a panel to study the amendment, changing the charter will be an uphill task as it has been written in such a way that it is almost impossible to amend it using the normal process.

In terms of the votes required for a charter amendment, Article 256 of the current constitution  states the following:

-In the first reading, it must gain no less than half of the votes or 376 from both the House of Representatives and the Senate. That would necessitate votes from at least a third of all senators or 84.

– The second reading requires a majority vote.

– The third reading involves another majority endorsement or more than 376 votes from both the House of Representatives and the Senate. From this number no fewer than 20 per cent of votes are required from MPs from political parties whose members do not hold Ministerial positions, the House Speaker or Deputy House Speaker plus no less than one-third or 84 votes from Senators.

Consensus, collaboration and compromise from all parties, including the Senate, is therefore a must otherwise the amendment draft is unlikely to pass, Yuthaporn says.

 

 

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