Thai govt t to push for 'article by article' charter change
The Thai government has opted to push for constitutional amendment by individual articles after its efforts to have the post-coup charter replaced by a new one ran into strong opposition.
On the surface, it may appear the ruling Pheu Thai Party has turned away from its goal of having a new constitution written. But looking at the clauses to be targeted in the changes, it is clear the old charter should remain intact.
Critics and opposition politicians say the ultimate goal for Pheu Thai is to remove Article 309 from the 2007 Constitution. This clause recognises the coup-makers' Interim Constitution of 2006, and acts performed prior to or subsequent to the current charter's promulgation, including their orders against former premier Thaksin Shinawatra and the resultant legal actions against him. Thaksin, who is believed to be pulling the strings of the ruling party, recently told a meeting of Pheu Thai MPs in a call via Skype that they should seek to amend the charter article by article.
He said having a new charter written could lead to more legal cases against the government and could result in its downfall. "There will be no problems changing by article. You can do that one by one. If you don't do it this way, you won't be able to amend the Constitution," said Thaksin, who once described constitutional amendment as an important mission for this government and Parliament.
This was an about-turn for Thaksin, who late last year told a large gathering of his red-shirt supporters in Khao Yai it would be "really easy" to get majority support in a referendum on constitutional amendment.
A referendum was advised by the Constitution Court last year, when groups of people filed petitions against the coalition MPs who proposed bills seeking to amend Article 291 in order to allow formation of a constitution drafting assembly. The court rejected the accusation that those politicians sought to overthrow the country's political system, saying there was "insufficient evidence yet". But the judges suggested that, as the post-coup charter was supported by a majority of the people in a vote, to replace it with a new one should require majority support from the eligible voters.
Amendments by article will not result in Article 309 being removed. But that can be done later when the politicians in power succeed in altering different clauses to clear the existing legal obstacles.
One of the clauses to be targeted is Article 68, which allows people to petition the Constitution Court directly about any individual or party suspected of attempting to overthrow the democratic government.
The amendment proposes that such a petition to filed first with public prosecutors, so they could decided whether to forward it to the court.
Opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiva of the Democrat Party said this change would deprive citizens of the right to petition the court directly.
He said the ruling parties would push for passage of amendments to Article 291 in the final parliamentary reading, without having to worry about possible legal action.
Other clauses set to be amended relate to the election of senators, to allow them to serve for two consecutive terms. Chief opposition whip Jurin Laksanavisit said this could be a "give-and-take" move to woo support from senators.
The clauses that allow for dissolution of a political party on a court order are also expected to be amended.