'No time to re-do charter decree'
CDA chairman Noranit says rewriting qualification requirements would take too long; doubts growing over process
Those seeking broader participation in the writing of the country's new constitution had their hopes dashed yesterday in spite of vocal opposition from members of the Constitution Drafting Assembly (CDA).
Chairperson Noranit Setabutr convinced a majority of the CDA's 100 members there was no time to rewrite qualification requirements for the core charter writers as laid down in a Royal decree.
He said the six-month timeframe set down by the junta for producing a new charter meant there was no time to amend the decree, which would require Cabinet approval and His Majesty the King's signature.
Some CDA members protested that the decision to leave the qualifications unchanged was decided by consensus and not a vote.
"I don't think this issue should be over," Vichian Amnajvoraprasert said at 3.15pm, nearly two hours after the debate. His remark was met with indifference from most assembly members.
Earlier, a few members opposed to the Cabinet-approved Royal decree as stipulated by the junta's 2006 Interim Constitution aired their disapproval to no avail.
The Royal decree requires the members of the Constitution Drafting Committee to be selected by the CDA to hold either an education qualification equivalent to professor or have held a position of director-general or be former senators or members of Parliament.
Eight charter writers to be selected from the country's four regions are exempt from this prerequisite.
The Council for National Security will appoint 10 other charter drafters.
Critics say the rules exclude most people from the drafting process and may allow the junta to influence the final draft of the charter.
"I oppose the Royal decree but the government has been very stubborn. The passing of the Royal decree by the executive branch to control a legislative-branch decision [on what the minimum qualifications of charter writers should be] is unheard of," said Karun Sai-ngam, a CDA member and former senator.
"The CDA is neglecting an important matter and in the future people will say, 'Look what the CDA did. It merely closed its eyes and ears [and didn't oppose it]'."
Karun said at very least the regional quota of charter writers should be increased from two people per region to three, four or even five.
Other CDA members said they opposed the qualification restrictions but thought it was too late if the drafting deadline was to be met.
One member told the CDA session that television news had reported at lunchtime that "hand-picked" National Legislative Assembly president Meechai Ruchuphan had insisted there would be no change to the rules.
"But what does Meechai have to do with our task?" CDA member Prof Somkit Lertpaithoon was heard complaining.
Former senator Chirmsak Pinthong suggested that changes could be made within a week, but Noranit did not pursue the point.
Chirmsak warned that acceptance would turn the CDA into a "decorative-plant assembly" and risk intensifying public opposition to the drafting process.
Others including Sawaek Chinkool accepted the matter was fait accompli.
"That's what they told us [to do]. We have been raped and we must accept it."
Yesterday's informal session agreed to decide the member-ship of about a dozen committees that will assist the drafting process.
It was agreed in principle committees such at those responsible for soliciting public participation and opinion will be set up.
But the session heard concerns the public may be either dissatisfied with the constitution or manipulated by those opposing the junta into rejecting the charter in a referendum scheduled for later this year. This could create a political crisis.
"If we don't do it well the chance of it being rejected in a referendum is 90 per cent," warned Sriracha Charoenpanich.