Thai govt proposes constitution changes, evokes ghosts of protests past
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Thai govt proposes constitution changes, evokes ghosts of protests past

By Saksith Saiyasombut

The cabinet has approved the amendments of two points in the 2007 constitution. The points concern parliamentary approval before signing international treaties and to increase of MPs in the house to 500 – 375 constituencies and 125 on a proportional basis. 

Tuesday’s announcement is part of an overall six-point amendment proposal with one major point not being finally considered by now*: 

The panel proposed that Section 237 be amended to avoid the dissolution of parties in cases of electoral fraud, while imposing stricter penalties on individual politicians found responsible of breaches. The committee recommended that ordinary MPs found guilty of poll fraud be banned from politics for five years, party executives be banned for 10 years and party leaders be banned for 15 years.

Charter tweak ‘ready by next Tuesday’, Bangkok Post, October 25, 2010

Section 237 of the 2007 constitution has been a long-running bone of contention that played not an insignificant role in the recent years of the political crisis.

The first original attempt to change the Section 237 was back in 2008, when the governing People‘s People Party (PPP) wanted to prevent a similar fate to it‘s predecessor Thai Rak Thai party, which was dissolved in 2007. Then-opposition leader Abhisit was against this change:

Opposition Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said on Monday he did not believe Article 309 [granting amnesty to the coup makers] and 227 [sic! but they meant 237 here] of the Constitution pose major problems that they need to be amended. (…) He said the Democrats had their own Constitution amendment draft ready to be tabled for the House scrutiny. “We want to know the reasons why other parties want to amend these two articles,” he said.

Abhisit: Article 309 and 237 not a major problem, The Nation, March 31, 2008

This was also one of the reasons that reignited the PAD protests, in which they (in)famously seized the Government House and the Bangkok airports in the following months. They argued that the charter amendments were done in “self-interest” and they feared a “silent coup” by the government of then-PM Samak. The protests ended in late 2008 when the ruling PPP and their coalition partners were dissolved by the constitution court because of voting frauds and thus on basis of that very article 237.

After the change of power to the Democrat-led government, there was a long back-and-forth among the coalition partners and mostly with themselves on whether to change parts of the constitution or not. Once the Democrat Party was for a change, then against it but still denied any rifts in the party, the coalition partners were pushing for a change, the opposition weren’t sure themselves at all, then they were against it, the government continued to push the proposals, which has led to even more argument in the party, even though that was denied once again.

The question that comes up in this story is why would the Democrat Party would approve the change of of article 237, which they previously opposed? As Suranand Vejjajiva recently wrote in a column, it’s a “political ploy to keep the coalition partners intact with the ruling Democrat Party” and that the coalition parties are all for a change because “many of [them] were affected by the party dissolution and the revocation of political rights clauses“. Now hit with a corruption case corruption case of their own (but with the constitution court judging on it utterly in shambles), the Democrat Party may theoretically have to deal with the same fate.

And where does the PAD stand on this now?

The Peoples Alliance for Democracy remains firm in its stand that constitutional amendments must not be designed to whitewash politicians under a political ban, PAD spokesman Panthep Puapongpan said on Tuesday. 

He said the amendments must also not made to serve the interests of politicians and must not infringe on His Majesty the King’s power. If the proposed amendments contravened its stand the PAD would certainly move against them, he said.

PAD stands firm on charter change“, Bangkok Post, October 26, 2010

Same old, same old, it seems. Will they take it to the streets again, if this government pushes through the changes?

*(The other points of this proposal, especially the change of the voting system, will be tackled in a future post.)

Saksith Saiyasombut is Thai blogger and journalist based in Hamburg, Germany. He can be followed on Twitter @Saksith.

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