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Charter drafting committee faces difficult challenges over proposed amendments

Jun 22. 2015
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REVISIONS to the draft charter by the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) later this week will inevitably affect some key points. To begin with, the drafters will find it tough to revise certain clauses without ruining the principles they were drafted u

They have received amendment proposals from agencies such as the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), the National Reform Council (NRC) and the Cabinet, and some of these proposals contradict one another. 

One of the major principles up for debate is that of an “outsider”, non-MP prime minister. The CDC draft stipulates that the PM does not have to be a member of the House of Representatives, but should be able to attain votes from at least two-thirds of all MPs to secure the position. 
Key NRC members, such as the chairman of the political reform panel, Sombat Thamrongthanyawong, and legal and justice reform panel chairman Seree Suwanphanont, have opposed the idea of letting an outsider become prime minister, but the NLA and Cabinet appear to be supporting this clause.
If the drafters drop the outsider-PM clause as proposed by the key reformers, then their original intention of introducing a way out of a political impasse will be erased. However, if they stand their ground on the issue, it could raise chances of the NRC rejecting the charter draft when it votes in September. 
How they deal with this issue is a key challenge for drafters. An outsider PM needs the authority to propose bills and dissolve the House, as stated in the draft charter’s Articles 181 and 182. These powers would be an “important weapon” for an unelected PM, who has no guaranteed support from coalition parties.
Article 181 says that the prime minister can seek a vote of confidence from the House of Representatives, but if the House returns a “no confidence” vote, then the PM can dissolve the Parliament. Article 182 grants the PM the authority to propose important bills. If MPs do not issue a no-confidence vote within 48 hours, these bills will be deemed as approved by the House. 
The NRC and the Cabinet oppose these articles. The reformers are against having an outsider PM, so their opposition to the articles is obvious, but the Cabinet’s position seems quite irrational in that it is backing an outsider PM, but disagrees with him or her being given the power to propose bills.
Attasit Pankaew, a political scientist from Thammasat University, said an outsider PM might find it tough to control a coalition government as well as find it extremely difficult to propose any bills, so Articles 181 and 182 might prove to be necessary. 
However, he said, the CDC had drafted the charter in a systematic manner and altering or removing one article might result in the amendment or removal of another. For instance, he said, if the CDC eliminated the clause on having an outsider PM, it would also have to remove the two articles and vice versa. 
Other fiercely debated topics are the MMP (mixed-member proportional representation) electoral system, the open-list system that gives voters a greater say in the order |of representatives in a party list, and the provision that allows political-interest groups to participate in |the parliamentary system.
The Cabinet suggested that the previous electoral system be used instead of MMP, while the NRC strongly disagrees with the open-list system. 
Attasit said that if the CDC were to amend the clauses on the MMP and open-list system, it would have to eliminate the role of political-interest groups as well, and this also would not bring in the political system the drafters want to introduce. He argued that if Thailand wants a strong government, it certainly could not adopt the MMP system, because it would only lead to a coalition. 
Hence no matter how the CDC amends the charter, it will surely affect their principles. Plus, the drafters cannot favour one proposal over another. 
Charter revisions will be made on an article-by-article basis this week. Sources within the CDC have said that they expect the panel to call the NRC and the Cabinet in for a meeting after the amendments are completed so it can explain the reasons behind why they have either eliminated and altered some articles or left certain clauses as they are. 
Article 181 would be amended to allow the opposition to launch a no-confidence debate in the same Parliament session; 
Article 182, which grants the premier the authority to pass important bills, would be eliminated. 
Political interest groups would not be allowed to run in the elections; 
The open-list in the party-list system would be dropped; 
Constituency MPs would be increased from 250 to 300 and party-list MPs cut from 200 to 150; 
National Ethics Committee would be eliminated; 
A new election organising committee would not be set up; 
The Senate’s authority would be reduced; 
Office of Ombudsman and National Human Rights Commission would be kept separate; 
Reconciliation Committee would be merged with the Strategic Reform Committee.
Mixed-member proportional electoral system;
Option of having an outsider PM, but this non-MP premier must win the vote of two-thirds of all MPs. 


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