By KRIS BHROMSUTHI
THAILAND'S VETERAN political players have expressed grave concern over the drafting of the new constitution that took place under the junta's watch, stating that perhaps it will lead to a regression of democracy.
Political figures like Alongkorn Ponlaboot, Chaturon Chaisang, Kasit Piromya and Phongthep Thepkanjana – former MPs from the country’s two biggest political parties, Democrat and Pheu Thai – participated in a seminar organised by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand under the topic “The Future of Politics in Thailand”.
The discussion on Wednesday night was the first real political debate since last May’s coup.
The room was crowded with foreign and local journalists who turned up for a lively discussion.
Chaturon questioned many of the laws that have been drafted in the charter, especially the “political system, politicians and political parties” section with regard to the new provision that allows a PM candidate to be a non-elected MP in a time of crisis.
On this matter, he asked: “But what are the conditions of a crisis?” And said: “A political crisis can happen very easily in Thailand. We can have demonstrations, then non-cooperation from public sector organisations, an absence of law enforcement, then we have a crisis.”
He said he was concerned that Thailand may have an “outsider” PM sooner rather than later and more often than many may anticipate.
He also raised a question over whether the next elected administration must “carry on” the reform plan initiated by the National Reform Council,
The NRC is set to remain functioning for years after the country returns to being ruled by an elected government. There are also provisions in the charter that state the government must follow certain “national strategies and reform plans”.
Chaturon, a former deputy PM in the deposed Pheu Thai government, questioned whether the new government had to implement the reform plan initiated by NRC. “If the people vote for a party with a different reform plan then let them decide,” he said.
He also questioned whether various bodies should monitor and regulate the reform process because it was likely to cause the people and elected officials to clash with appointed officials.
Chaturon concluded that “this charter was contrary to the country’s political development in recent years”.
Former foreign minister and Democrat MP Kasit Piromya said that when the drafted version of the new charter was revised he was worried that there would be a “regression of democracy”.
He said the country was turning into a “bureaucratic democracy” with a highly centralised administration, where all provincial governors were appointed officials from the Interior Ministry and local administrations had been weakened.
He said he was now “pessimistic and sad” because political parties and their members, who could claim to represent almost half of the country’s population, were excluded from the reform-deliberation process.
He also stated that “the minority acting on behalf of the masses is totalitarianism and fascist”.
Phongthep, a former minister of the PM’s office and a former Pheu Thai MP, said that after reading the draft of the new charter a few questions came to mind such as “did the charter drafters trust and respect the people?”
He said the charter drafters did not seem to respect the people and hence had taken back some of the people’s powers, including the charter provision stipulating that all senators should be appointed.
Appointed senators were given “super powers” to scrutinise the profiles of Cabinet candidates, and this in effect would practically give senators the power to appoint Cabinet members.
He said that this implied that the PM and the Senate would have to give and take, meaning there would need to be negotiations between them and compromise as to who would be allocated ministerial offices, with the Senate having as much bargaining power as the PM.