Thailand charter ‘reduces people’s power’

BANGKOK (The Nation/ANN) - Academics pan draft, say the Thai junta should call an election and allow more public input.

The new charter draft proposes mechanisms with a tendency to deprive people of their power, such as voting on a non-elected prime minister and selection of non-elected senators, the Network of Academics for Civil Rights have said.

The group led by the dean of Thammasat University’s Faculty of Sociology and Anthropology Anusorn Unno called on the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to arrange a general election as soon as possible – so a new government and parliament can write a new charter draft.

The group wore T-shirts with a “Vote No” logo when they read a statement outlining five arguments against the draft at a press conference held yesterday at Thammasat University’s Tha Phra Chan campus.

The group said, firstly, people had not had a proper chance to participate in the charter drafting process, so this made them to think it was designed to serve only certain groups’ interests. The Constitution Drafting Commission (CDC), they claimed, had only taken suggestions from the so-called “four rivers of power” while turning down public opinions, according to Kasetsart University economics lecturer Decharut Sukkumnoed.

Second, the draft deprived people of “political voices” as it had been sidetracked to allow a non-elected prime minister to win office, plus a Senate selected by the National Council for Peace and Order.

Third, it would empower the Constitutional Court and independent agencies to check the parliament’s administration, without checks-and-balances mechanisms.

Fourth, security personnel could resort to the enforcement of security related laws as there were no specific clauses limiting this, such as whether the state can infringe on people’s rights and liberty.

Finally, the charter draft gives little room for the constitution to be amended as per the will of the people.

The group also voiced concern over the NCPO’s “threats” that if the draft was rejected, it would stay in power and adopt a new or “worse” charter.

The group, previously known as the Network of Lecturers Concerned for Detained Students, who campaigned for the release of student activists who had been detained, claims that it now has about 400 academics as members.

Anusorn said the group would propose a road map for the country before the referendum and hold seminars to explain each section of the draft in a bid to point out problems in the draft.

“We will carry out [academic seminars], which the referendum bill allows us to do … as we are citizens who abide by the law,” he said.

The lecturers were concerned about “one-sided information” that people have received, as individuals opposed to the junta are generally targeted, Thammasat economics lecturer Pichit Likitkijsomboon said.

“The referendum with suppression [of public debate] would bring about damage to society, whether or not the draft is passed,” Decharut said.

Meanwhile, CDC spokespersons came out swiftly yesterday to respond to the group’s statement. They said arguments against the charter draft appeared to be distorted and discriminatory.

Spokesman Norachit Sinhaseni said the academics’ opinions against the charter draft were not thorough and it looked as if they had not read the whole content of the draft before making their comments.

For instance, the CDC has written a blanket guarantee for people’s rights and freedom and this was more than any previous charter, Norachit said.

He urged listeners and students to study the charter draft thoroughly before making judgements.

CDC spokesman Udom Ratamarit said the academics had distorted views and the draft was not aimed at opening the way for a non-elected PM. But he was not concerned about the group’s statement, he said, as he trusted people would make their own judgements.

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