The Pheu Thai Party, which won successive elections before the military coup in 2014, decided not to attend, arguing that their views wouldn’t be taken into account by the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) anyway.
Pheu Thai is eyeing a more drastic move to pressure the charter writers into relaxing the draft’s content – by suggesting it might boycott the election.
The rival Democrat Party, which is seeking ways to improve its performance in the next big political show, has adopted a more flexible position. Senior members of the party have criticised certain provisions of the draft, but have tried to persuade CDC members, especially chairman Meechai Ruchupan, to review clauses that may undermine, rather than promote, the return to electoral democracy.
Both major parties appear to share similar concerns over the new, stricter rules of the political game: The requirement for every party to recruit at least 20,000 members in four years; the proposed heavy punishments (up to life imprisonment) against offending politicians – and even the Bt100 membership fee for party members.
The most controversial clauses in the draft are perhaps contained in Articles 105 and 109, which stipulate penalties as serious as death or life imprisonment for politicians caught deliberately subverting the political system.
“These unprecedented provisions, proposed in the name of reform, may end up being used as tools to threaten, intimidate and get rid of politicians going against the powers-that-be,” commented one Pheu Thai Party politician.
Poomtham Vejjayachai minced no words when he declared: “There is no point in us joining the meeting. We have submitted proposals, suggestions and ideas to the CDC but they don’t seem to have paid any attention to them. Let Mr Meechai and the charter writers do whatever they want. I just hope that they are courageous and responsible enough to accept the consequences as a result of their work on this score.”
The charter writers insist that if past failures in the country’s political party system are to be avoided in the process of national reform, it’s imperative that sterner punishments be meted out to corrupt politicians – and that parties must genuinely represent the wishes of the common people.
One crucial point in the draft is aimed at putting a stop to the tradition of parties being “owned” by wealthy people, who can then dictate their policy to serve themselves rather than the good of the country.
Some veteran politicians have been quick to point out that the provision requiring ordinary party members to pay even a Bt100 fee could be a problem for grass-roots people whose livelihoods are under threat amid the deteriorating economy. Besides, this particular clause won’t stop politicians with deep pockets from buying up members to do their bidding anyway.
The existing parties have also slammed the new provision that they must recruit at least 5,000 new members in the first year, and have at least 500 “founding members” who have paid an initial contribution of Bt2,000.
Article 23 lays down four basic objectives for all parties:
1. Promote understanding about democracy among the people. Exercise freedom responsibly.
2. Propose ways to develop and solve problems of the country reasonably. Promote people’s participation.
3. Monitor and probe the government’s exercise of power.
4. Promote unity and reconciliation among the people – and resolve national problems through peaceful means.
Any party not abiding by these rules would face being disbanded and its executive members being barred by the Constitution Court from standing in elections.
These “new rules of political reform” are obviously highly ambiguous and open to various shades of interpretation – raising the possibility of confusion at best and possible abuse of power at worst. The constitution drafters say they are filling past loopholes, while the politicos retort that advocates of these new provisions clearly harbour “ulterior motives” against those with opposite political leanings.
“The charter writers have never managed political parties. They simply don’t understand,” said another veteran politician. “They think that political participation of the people means paying membership dues. But as a politician with 30 years of experience in this field, I can say that the members I want are those who help the party in election campaigns, those who help prevent vote buying and selling and those who promote democracy. Therefore, existing members should be allowed to continue”.
The showdown will continue. Compromises may be made along the way. But the mutual suspicion and deep-rooted confrontational mentality won’t disappear. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Perhaps that’s what democracy is all about: Put your best arguments forward, and let the public have a say on all the major details of the new draft – if the real objective is the empowerment of the people.
This, after all, isn’t just a tug-of-war between politicians and academics. After all is said and done, the people will decide what’s right and wrong when they mark the ballots next time.
Published : December 14, 2016
By : Suthichai Yoon The Nation