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Abhisit slams charter as a step backward

Apr 10. 2016
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Democrats will vote to reject referendum question on empowering senate to choose the prime minister.
Abhisit slams charter as a step backward
THE DEMOCRAT PARTY yesterday called the draft constitution “a democracy in retreat”, but remained silent on how it will vote in the August 7 charter referendum.
“The draft distorts [democratic] will and weakens people’s power compared with state authority,” party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said.
The party opposes the draft, as it undermines the democratic approach, he told a press conference, along with his deputies Ongart Klampaiboon and Jurin Laksanawisit.
“People’s rights have been progressive [in previous charters], but those in the new draft go backward from the [most recent] 2007 one,” he said.
The Democrats have yet to say whether they will accept the draft charter in the referendum, but will clarify their stance if there is “a time to decide” possibly before the referendum date.
The party’s reasoning is quite similar to that of Pheu Thai Party, which last month issued a statement rejecting the charter draft for violating democratic principles and being a product of the coup-installed government. 
Pheu Thai has also called on people to vote against the draft in the referendum.
Abhisit criticised the draft for depriving people of their right to participate in the political arena. 
For instance, people will not be able to elect the Upper House, which could be empowered along with the Lower House to jointly choose the prime minister if a premier from the parties’ three-candidate lists cannot be selected.
The condition is stated in the draft’s provisional clause, which also stipulates that voters will have only one ballot, preventing them from choosing constituency and party-list MPs from different parties.
The charter will also be too difficult to amend, the Democrat chief said, requiring approval from one-third of the handpicked Senate, which gives it a virtual veto. 
With the Senate’s term to coincide with the five-year transitional period, handpicked senators could be involved with more than one government. 
There also could be attempts to prolong the provisional period, as was seen with the post-coup charter of 1978.
The Democrat Party is clear that it will vote to reject the additional referendum question proposed by the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) on a role for the selected senators in choosing the PM during the transitional period, which would give them the same authority as MPs. 
That scenario would create an imbalance within the legislature, Abhisit argued.
Despite being promoted to tackle graft, the charter has loopholes in its anti-corruption mechanisms, Abhisit said, giving the example that the lifting of impeachment powers would mean that wrongdoers would be tried in the courts, which could adversely affect prosecutions. 
Allegations of law-breaking by National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) members would be considered by the parliamentary president instead of being turned over to the courts. The Democrat leader said the NACC could negotiate with the government to stall such inquiries.
The charter also reduces the punishment for state officials found guilty of wrongdoing, from a lifetime ban from politics to only five years.
Abhisit said the Election Commission (EC) should state clearly in its recently passed referendum bill what is prohibited during the elections process to reassure the people’s rights to participate, which should be carried out freely and fairly.
The ruling junta should also answer clearly what would happen if the charter is rejected in the referendum, Abhisit said.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha slammed politicians criticising the charter draft and the NLA’s additional question, and asked how such question could worsen the country.
“Politicians dare to criticise the NCPO and [our] reform efforts because if we succeed, people will never turn to them again,” he said.
Prayut also rhetorically questioned whether those politicians had ever succeeded in solving national problems without negative consequences. For instance, he said, they merely provide a budget to solve the problems year after year, instead of finding ways for sustainable fund-raising.
Former Pheu Thai MP Somkid Chueakong said the NLA’s referendum question indicated that the junta wanted to cling to power, and the NLA was under the military government’s thumb. 
The EC should be open and not obstruct people from expressing their opinion, he added. 
Suriyasai Katasila, deputy dean of Rangsit University’s College of Social Innovation, also urged the junta to clearly tell the public what would happen if the charter is rejected, so voters will know what is going to happen and which charter will be promulgated as an alternative. 
“The question has been added to the referendum, but no answer [about what will happen if the charter is rejected]. This referendum will endlessly bring about problems,” he said. 
A Suan Dusit poll released on Saturday said most respondents agreed with adding the NLA’s question to the referendum, saying that senators are senior figures with special expertise.

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