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Pressure mounts on Prayut over Article 44 party order


MAJOR PLAYERS SIGNAL COURT CHALLENGES OVER MOVE’S CONSTITUTIONALITY

PRESSURE IS MOUNTING on junta chief Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha over the use of his absolute powers to amend the Political Party Act in an apparent bid to give the junta the upper hand in the election. 
Heavyweight political parties yesterday continued to protest last week’s Article 44 order, whose amendments to the act are viewed as not only depriving existing parties of their constitutionally guaranteed rights but also violating the charter’s endorsement of political liberty.
Pheu Thai Party legal officer Ruangkrai Leekijwattana yesterday filed a petition to the Constitutional Court to nullify the order and consider whether Prayut had curbed political rights by issuing such an order using his sweeping powers.
The Democrat Party said earlier that it also planned to submit a petition, with details to be disclosed, to the court after the New Year holidays.
Ruangkrai said the order could breach the military-sponsored charter’s Article 45, which prohibits outsiders from having command over political parties, and Article 77, which stipulates how legislation should be enacted.
The order authorises the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to respond to parties’ queries about laws on elections or political parties, as well as enables organisations under the NCPO to have discussions with the Election Committee on the process ahead of the election.
“If this order continues to exist, Article 44 power will be used further to amend or issue laws without going through the parliamentary mechanism,” he said.
The party also issued a statement urging the NCPO to lift order No 53/2560, as well as its political bans, because they could potentially defer the election date and weaken the membership of existing parties.
Among points of concern is the requirement for all party members to submit proof of qualifications and pay membership fees within 30 days. The major parties regard this obligation as equivalent to forcing members to reapply, effectively resetting party memberships. It would be impossible for parties with hundreds of thousands members – or millions, in the case of the Democrats – to verify all their members’ qualifications within a month. 
The order also requires parties to hold meetings within 90 days after the lifting of the NCPO ban on political gathering of five or more people. However, it does not say when this ban will be lifted and whether it will be lifted in enough time for parties to prepare for the election. “This could become an excuse for the NCPO to have the election deferred,” the statement said. However, the order allows new parties to hold meetings immediately, which is unfair to existing parties, the Democrat Party statement said.
The statement also said the junta order violated the Constitution – regarded as the country’s highest law – by amending an act without deliberation by the National Legislative Assembly, which is now effectively the parliament.
The charter allowed Article 44 power to be exercised to create reforms and unity or curb activities that disturb peace, order and stability of the country’s economy or governance – but this order did not fall into those categories, it said. Instead, it just fixed problems created by the junta’s own political ban.
“As the NCPO also holds the position of prime minister, which is a political position, issuing such an order is an attempt to leverage power to gain a political advantage, which violates good governance,” it added.
Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said the party’s petition should focus on conflicting points of the order that would violate not only existing laws but also principles of good governance.
“This order does not help alleviate the political ban as claimed. Instead, it tends to create even more locks,” he said. “The increase in its new timelines will trouble both existing and emerging parties.”
While his party did not have problems with new parties or the primary voting system in the act, the use of the absolute power conflicted with the government’s messages about transparency and accountability, he said.
Outgoing election commissioner Somchai Srisutthiyakorn also predicted a “big ripple” in politics in April next year as the deadline to update party membership lists begins.
The junta has said the order is aimed at preventing voters from becoming members of more than one party, but Somchai insisted that there could be not be a duplication in party member lists because his agency’s database would be able to track membership.
 

Published : December 27, 2017

By : The Nation