Why rush to alter charter?

Why rush to alter charter? – Bangkok Post, August 25, 2011
…Besides the Ratchadapisek land scandal in which Thaksin was sentenced in absentia to a 2-year jail term for conflict of interest, the fugitive ex-premier also faces three other corruption cases still pending with the court. These are the 4-billion-baht soft loan for the Burmese government by the Export-Import Bank of Thailand, supposedly to help develop a communications system in Burma with equipment sold by Shin Satellite; the conversion of telecom concession fees to excise tax in which Shin Corp (then owned by the Shinawatra family) was alleged to benefit at the expense of the state; and lastly, the special lottery scheme…

[2015 note: Like many Thai newspaper articles documenting important political events, this article is no longer online. Below is the complete text of the original article.]

Why rush to alter charter?

Published: 25/08/2011 at 12:00 AM

Apparently unperturbed by criticism and possible political fallout, the Pheu Thai-led government appears determined to push ahead with its plan to write a new constitution to replace the current charter, which the party holds in contempt for the mere fact it is a legacy of the military junta that toppled the Thaksin administration in Sept 2006.

Rewriting the charter has been listed as one of the 16 urgent policies of the new government, as announced in its policy statement to Parliament on Tuesday by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. To make this possible, Section 291 of the current charter which spells out the methods and guidelines on how to amend the charter, will be amended in order to pave way for the creation of a charter-drafting assembly which will be tasked with crafting a new charter.

But the real intention of the whole rewriting exercise is to scrap Section 309 of the existing charter. The rest of the exercise is just a sideshow meant to distract public attention.

Why Section 309? The provision, in essence, legitimises all the actions undertaken by the 2006 coup-makers, including in particular the setting up of the Assets Scrutiny Committee to investigate suspected corruption practices of the Thaksin regime. Scrapping the entire provision means that all the actions and decisions made by the committee would be invalidated. In other words, the corruption cases investigated by the ASC and then tried or decided by the Supreme Court’s criminal division for political office holders, would be declared null and void as a result of the abrogation of this particular provision.

Thaksin Shinawatra is the person most investigated by the ASC, though other members of his cabinet were also investigated on corruption charges. Former deputy finance minister Varathep Rattanakorn, for instance, was handed a 2-year suspended jail term along with former finance permanent secretary Somchainuk Engtrakul and Chaiwat Pasokpakdi, director of the Lottery Bureau, over the two- and three-digit lottery scheme introduced by the Thaksin government in 2003.

Besides the Ratchadapisek land scandal in which Thaksin was sentenced in absentia to a 2-year jail term for conflict of interest, the fugitive ex-premier also faces three other corruption cases still pending with the court. These are the 4-billion-baht soft loan for the Burmese government by the Export-Import Bank of Thailand, supposedly to help develop a communications system in Burma with equipment sold by Shin Satellite; the conversion of telecom concession fees to excise tax in which Shin Corp (then owned by the Shinawatra family) was alleged to benefit at the expense of the state; and lastly, the special lottery scheme.

Given all these cases against Thaksin, critics have been quick to point out that the government’s attempt to rewrite or amend the charter is meant to benefit just one individual _ Thaksin. Of course, the government has categorically denied this.

If the whole exercise is indeed not meant to absolve Thaksin, then why the rush? Is the current charter so undemocratic or bad that it needs an urgent make-over? Why didn’t members of the People Power Party, Pheu Thai’s predecessor, demand the amendments when they had the chance a few years back?

Amending the charter or writing a new one now is a badly thought-out move by Pheu Thai, which will unnecessarily bring a backlash on the government. It is not an urgent issue and will not benefit the public, except for one individual.

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