By KAS CHANWANPEN
THE Pheu Thai Party yesterday filed a petition with the Constitutional Court and the Ombudsman asking for a ruling on the constitutionality of the junta order on the political parties organic law.
The Democrat Party also plans to file a petition next week with the Ombudsman and is currently working on a draft, the party’s legal expert Virat Kalayasiri said.
Both parties were challenging the junta order that set a new timetable for political parties and administrative procedures to prepare themselves ahead of the next election.
The organic law on political parties specified 60 to 180-day deadlines for parties to complete administrative affairs, such as updating their membership registration records and setting up provincial branches. But because the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) refused to lift its ban on politics, parties claimed they had been unable to begin work.
Deadlines had almost expired when the junta issued its controversial order.
Aside from laying out the new timetables for the parties, it also required members to reconfirm their membership with parties as well as submit papers verifying their qualifications.
In a press conference yesterday, Phumtham Wechayachai, Pheu Thai’s acting secretary-general, read a statement arguing that the order had constitutional issues and alleging it infringed on the political rights and freedom of party members.
First, the order issued by NCPO chief Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha using his absolute powers under Article 44 failed to meet conditions set in the interim charter and was therefore unconstitutional, the Pheu Thai statement said.
Second, the order requiring members to confirm their membership was equivalent to nullifying all of the current membership, affecting their rights, it said.
As the confirmation of membership required a number of official documents, which had to be sought from at least 14 state bureaux, it added a burden for party members and limited rights and freedom, Pheu Thai said.
The fact that new members did not have to undergo the same process meant the order violated equal protections specified by the new Constitution, it added.
Phumtham said the petition would be filed in the name of the party with both the Constitutional Court and the Ombudsman. Pheu Thai members would also individually petition the Constitutional Court for infringements of political rights, he added.
Pheu Thai core leader Noppadol Patama criticised the NCPO for refusing to lift the political ban and instead issuing an order that had “only led to more problems”.
The former foreign minister said the NCPO’s stated justification for maintaining the ban – that there was still a risk of social unrest – was baseless. Most parties were not satisfied with the NCPO’s solution and wanted to seek a Constitutional Court decision on the matter, he added.
Parties should be allowed to work, visit voters to understand their needs and come up with policies addressing those needs, Noppadol said, arguing that the political ban should be lifted.
Pheu Thai legal expert Chusak Sirinin admitted that if the Constitutional Court ruled the order was legitimate, it would still be very challenging for parties to comply because the timeframe imposed was limited for updating registrations, collecting membership fees and setting up new branches.
The order should be revoked, he said, adding that the party was determined to face up to hardship.
In a related development, Democrat Party deputy spokesman Rames Rattanachaweng said the party would not directly petition the Constitutional Court because the Constitution was clear about filing complaints with the Ombudsman.
Ultimately the Democrat petition would still reach the Constitutional Court, he said.
Key arguments against junta move
Pheu Thai Party’s two arguments about the unconstitutionality of the NCPO’s chief’s order
1. Procedural aspect: The exercise of Article 44 (secured under the new charter’s Article 265) to issue the order did not meet conditions set by the interim charter, because:
- The organic law on political parties had undergone a legislative process as prescribed by the Constitution. The junta order to overturn it thus overruled the constitutional legislation.
- The NCPO has no authority above the Constitution.
2. Aspects concerning content: The NCPO chief’s order goes against the Constitution, because:
- Legislation of organic laws falls under the authority of parliament as prescribed by the Constitution. The exercise of the Article 44 is thus an act without authorisation by the charter.
- The order, which could result in cancellation of membership of party members, is a limitation of rights and its retroactive effect is against the rule of law.
- Requiring members to confirm their membership and show their qualification gives them a burden and is a limitation of rights.
- New members would not have to go through the same process. This is against the [concept of] equality protected by the Constitution.