Unelected PM could lead to 'fresh bloodshed'
The constitution writers yesterday were engaged in a heated debate over whether room should be left for the possibility of a non-elected prime minister. Both sides of the debate warned of disastrous consequences.
The chairman of the Constitu-tion Drafting Assembly, Noranit Sethabutr, had to intervene during the passionate hour-long debate, saying that the possibility of public discontent was real.
"They didn't stipulate it [that the PM must come from the ranks of MPs] 15 years ago and political problems ensued. It will always be met with suspicion and mistrust if we write it that way."
The charter drafters yesterday failed to reach agreement on whether the prime minister could be unelected. A vote on the issue will take place in early April.
Proponents of a non-elected PM say there's a need to break away from the vicious cycle of corrupt premiers followed by public disillusionment, coups and the tearing up of constitutions. Opponents warn that the public will see such a contingency as a ploy to allow a member of a junta or its representative to become prime minister and that such a move would risk stirring up another popular uprising.
Sriracha Charoenpanich was the main advocate of a non-elected PM being allowed under the new charter, and even Constitution Drafting Committee Chairman Prasong Soonsiri supported the idea, which is a departure from the 1997 constitution.
"I don't think I will join the drafting of yet another new charter because it's of no use. We are like trapped rats. If we follow the same old road to failure, I think I should just pack my bags this evening [and leave the drafting process]. I'm not a conduit for the Council of National Security, but if we get the same old result after the election then what problems will this charter solve?
"I don't see your [democratic] ideology as effective. We're like a cart stuck in the same track and Vietnam is about to surpass us. What will you get, talking about democracy?" said Sriracha, who asked for a vote on the matter but was quieted by Prasong.
In a rare taking of sides, CDC chairman Prasong said he supported Sriracha's stance. But he added a note of caution: "If we're not flexible, history will repeat itself. I don't think I'll get a chance to draft another charter because it comes every 10 years [after a coup]," said Prasong, who is in his eighties.
Prasong said earlier this week that the charter may be rejected by the referendum but it would be ultimately determined by the political and economic situation later this year, a move seen by some as passing on the responsibility to the Surayud government.
Somkid Lertpaitoon, secretary of the committee, told The Nation that it had not been decided if the vote in April would be secret or not.
Another matter that members failed to reach a consensus on was whether senators should be appointed or elected. Also unresolved was whether the Senate should have the power to impeach politicians, the prime minister or Cabinet members, and the decision will be deferred until early April.
Those against an elected Senate say that if the upper house continues to be elected, it will continue to be filled with corrupt and under-qualified politicians who are either relatives of MPs or who use the Senate as a mere stepping stone towards election to the lower house. Those in favour of an elected Senate say the people's voice and right to vote must be respected, and an appointed elite would pave the way for nepotism.
The 35 drafters agreed that future senators should be at least 40 years of age, have high, but as-yet-unspecified, qualifications, and must not hold senatorial positions for more than two terms.
Other details that were agreed upon include making acceptance of vote-buying money a crime - a novel idea not found in any previous charter. Party executives would also be liable to criminal punishment for vote-buying conducted by party members.
As for the selection process for the new election commissioners, the meeting decided to empower the Senate to approve the proposed list of five candidates, three of which will be nominated by a body composed of the presidents of the Supreme Court, Supreme Administrative Court, Constitution Court, the Speaker of the House and the opposition leader. Another two candidates will be nominated by a meeting of the Supreme Court. None of the so-called independent bodies will play a role in the selection process.
It was also agreed that ministers could continue to act as MPs while holding Cabinet portfolios, but they would not have the right to vote on matters directly linked to their interests. If convicted, even by the lower courts, a minister's seat would be automatically nullified.
Prasong said yesterday that there should be a clause in the new charter that bans the 35 drafters from contesting MP or senatorial elections held after the new constitution takes effect. His opinion was supported by fellow drafter Jaral Phakdithanakul.