THE CONSTITUTION Drafting Commission (CDC) resolved yesterday that the draft charter would stipulate a 250-member selected Senate for a five-year transitional period, as had been requested by the “four rivers of power” government bodies.
The move is seen as paving the way for an outsider prime minister who is not connected to the political parties, an academic said.
However, the draft would stipulate that 50 senators would still be cross-elected from 20 social and occupational groups at the district and provincial levels, CDC spokesman Norachit Sinhaseni said yesterday.
The four core governing bodies – the Cabinet, the National Legislative Assembly, the National Reform Steering Assembly and the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), collectively referred to as the “four rivers” – proposed two weeks ago the charter draft establish a 250-member Senate selected or appointed for a five-year transitional period.
The junta also asked for a quota of Senate seats for six military officers – the permanent secretary of the Defence Ministry, the chief commanders of the three branches of the Armed Forces, the supreme military commander and the national police chief.
However, drafters did not accord exactly with the request regarding the six military posts, but instead agreed that 2.5 per cent of the Senate, or six seats, would be filled by members of the NCPO or officials of the current government, the spokesman said.
“We might write that the selection is the responsibility of an eight to 10-member selection committee, which will probably be appointed by the NCPO. And we won’t bar governmental officials from sitting in this five-year Upper House during the transition,” Norachit said.
The CDC also agreed the Senate would be empowered to push legislation related to reform plans and to safeguarding the constitution, but the commission held firm on the principle that only the House of Representatives would be able to make a motion of no confidence against the next government.
Norachit said the CDC resolved to let MPs and senators decide whether political parties would have to offer lists specifying their three candidates for prime minister.
“The first parliament meeting to choose the PM will be held as usual after an election. Only if the MPs cannot settle on who [from the party candidate list] will be the PM, then they could open a meeting of the two houses [the House and the Senate] and vote. If two-thirds of the two houses vote ‘yes’, the suspension of the PM lists would be allowed,” he explained.
Only MPs will be empowered to vote on the prime minister, whether candidates are on the party lists or not.
Sukhum Nualsakul, a former rector of Ramkhamhaeng University, said the CDC’s resolution to allow the suspension of the list of candidates for prime minister opened a path for an outsider prime minister.
“If they are not using the list, now the PM can be anyone or an outsider,” he said, inferring that the candidate might not be connected to any political party.”
Thammasat University political lecturer Attasit Pankaew said that the amended principles on the selection of a premier would probably create a strong coalition among small and medium parties and the Senate.
He said allowing the Senate to indirectly vote in the selection of a premier would pave the way for lobbying between the Upper House and the Lower House, the latter of which might be dominated by minor parties due to the CDC’s stipulation of a mixed member apportionment electoral system.
Lobbying would be needed in both Houses to form a coalition of two-thirds of members to elect a new premier, he said.
While such a coalition could benefit a more unified drive for reform, the lecturer said, it could also marginalise larger parties. The resulting polarisation might obstruct efforts to maintain order during the five-year transition, he added.
The structure would also force the Senate to become involved in political decisions, exceeding its stipulated role to screen legislation and drive reforms, he said.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday insisted that it was necessary to have the six ex-officio Senate seats reserved for top military officers to ensure the next government stayed connected to the military.
“This concept is the next government won’t have to give separate orders [to each branch of the military]. Those [military officer] senators can also discuss with each other,” the premier said after a Cabinet meeting.
“What are you afraid of? Are you afraid that they will overtake the Senate? Come on, they have brains,” he said. “The next government will just have to do their best … I’m now doing it all for them.”
While agreeing on the Senate proposal, the CDC yesterday rejected the junta’s request to use a two-ballot voting system, instead of the one-ballot system the CDC proposed in its original draft charger. Norachit said the proposal did not come directly from the “four rivers” bodies, and violated the drafters’ original principles.The junta’s proposal also recommends a two-ballot electoral system, like that used in previous polls, for the next general election. The House would comprise 350 constituency MPs and 150 party-list MPs.
The four “rivers of power”, as the core governing bodies are referred to, also suggested that constituencies should be made larger and that the three candidates with the first, second and third-highest votes tallies all be elected to Parliament in multi-member districts. Voters would still only be allowed to cast a ballot for only a single candidate.Prayut said the new electoral system would mean “nothing to big parties” if they had quality candidates. Those parties did not have to fear the emergence of smaller parties, he added.
“It’s just only a mechanism we set up. There will be plenty of screening processes,” he said. “We’ll also have the Senate there. They have to work together on everything.”
The premier refused to comment whether there could be a compromise between the junta’s proposal and the CDC original ideas.
“It would be good if it turns out well. But if not, we all, including people, have to be responsible for that,” he said.Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said it would not be unusual if the charter’s provisional chapter relating to a transition period differed from other sections of the constitution.
While the main sections of the charter would apply permanently in the long term, Wissanu said, the provisional chapter would be active only during the five-year transition, which “needs a different explanation [than during the politically] normal period”.
The deputy prime minister was responding to concerns from CDC members who expressed worries that draft amendments in line with the junta’s proposal could compromise the charter draft’s main principles.
The decision depends on the CDC to weigh the matter, Wissanu said.
He admitted that the proposal for a two-ballot electoral system would help smaller parties emerge in the House via the party list, considering their limited resources to nominate MPs in every constituency.
The deputy prime minister, however, refused to say whether the system would be beneficial for new parties in the future.