The majestic Democracy Monument forms an imposing backdrop for two vigilant law enforcement officers, captured during their duty of overseeing a demonstration against the administration on the 14th of October, 2021. (Photograph by the talented Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)
Doubts are escalating concerning the scheduled referendum meant to decide upon the modification of the charter. The Move Forward Party (MFP) alleges that the government is intentionally delaying the significant event. Deputy Prime Minister Phumtham Wechayachai, appointed to head the panel geared towards planning the referendum, concedes that the decision to proceed with the referendum is still in the realm of discussions.
Making these remarks after the cabinet’s inaugural meeting this Wednesday, Mr. Phumtham reveals that primary focus was given to policies deemed of immediate importance, which includes the prevalent call for a more democratic charter. This charter is perceived by many as a lingering relic of the coup in 2014.
Simultaneously holding the position of the commerce minister, Mr. Phumtham states numerous academics and civic groups have extended their services to contribute towards redesigning the charter. However, he indicates their perspectives on amendments diverge considerably.
Mr. Phumtham conversely affirms that the government endeavors to sidestep becoming embroiled in the legal and technical hindrances that impeded the earlier administration in their quest for charter amendment. He precisely refers to the stymied efforts spearheaded by multiple parties to amend the charter, in essence dropped after the ruling from the Constitutional Court that mandated a referendum to decide on constitutional revision.
In the interim, MFP list-MP Parit Wacharasindhu alleges that the administration’s decision to arrange a referendum study panel is fundamentally a time-stalling tactic. Mr. Parit cites a commitment made by the currently seated Pheu Thai Party on the 2nd of August to initiate a referendum concerning charter amendment limits, where they included that the public would engage in the formation of the panel tasked with redrafting the charter.
Despite these assertions, Mr. Parit breaks the unfortunate news that the government appears to recede from its declaration on charter revision. He further declares that a study panel will emerge through an organizational directive from the prime minister, bypassing a cabinet resolution that necessitates stringent legal compliance.
Efforts for a constitution modification have been fraught with bureaucratic hang-ups in parliament. In February 2021, a consensus was agreed upon by both Houses that members constituting a charter-redrafting assembly should be democratically elected. This mutual understanding was formed during the second perusal of the bill pertaining to altering the charter in parliament. Nonetheless, during the final reading, a sub-set of parties and senators dismissed the bill, invoking the Constitutional Court’s ruling on the referendum.
Pursuing rejuvenation of the amendment, MFP and Pheu Thai, erstwhile opposition parties, collectively proposed to leverage the Referendum Act in an attempt to resuscitate the drive towards constitutional amendment. However, in February, this motion was jettisoned by the Senate.
Several senators voiced their apprehensions that coordinating a referendum concurrently with the general election slated for May 14, as suggested by several lawmakers, might prove impractical. However, Mr. Parit asserts that the cabinet has the jurisdiction to enforce the Referendum Act to side-step the Senate and commence the motion for a constitutional amendment. He laments, “Instead, the government elected to initiate a referendum study panel, an approach that is redundant.”