In a conspicuous move, the House of Representatives has renewed efforts to ditch the military-sponsored constitution. Earlier this month, the House unanimously approved by 323:0 votes a motion calling for a referendum on the drafting of a new constitution.
Under the motion, submitted by Move Forward Party (MFP) MP Nattapong Ruangpanyawut and Pheu Thai MP Jullapan Amornwiwat, the referendum will be held on the same day as the next election, tentatively scheduled for May 7 by the Election Commission (EC) assuming the government completes its term early next year.
The voting which was deferred for more than a month was indeed historic, with support from both the government and opposition, including Pheu Thai (79), Palang Pracharath (62), Bhumjaithai (57) Move Forward Party (44) Democrat (32), Thai Economic Party (11), Charthaipattana (7) among others.
In doing so, the House has effectively thrown the ball into the Senate’s court. Under the Referendum Act, the motion requires the Senate’s nod, in which case parliament will forward it to the cabinet. If not, it will be shot down.
This must not happen. To begin with, the referendum motion is in line with a ruling by the Constitutional Court last year which said a referendum would be needed for a new charter.
MFP leader Pita Limjaroenrat solicited support for the motion, saying holding the referendum and the election on the same day would save time and money.
He said the motion would also ensure the charter drafting process gets off to a quick start. With all its flaws, the charter must be replaced with a more democratic one.
The motion calls on the government to hold a referendum asking the public if the country should have a new constitution drawn up by a charter drafting assembly made up of elected representatives, as against the appointed drafters of the junta era.
Despite the historic vote, many believe it’s too soon to be optimistic given that key politicians who are also cabinet ministers did not vote for the motion.
Apart from that, the Senate has not made its stance known yet.
So far, the Upper House has sought consultation with the EC on a technicality concerning what would happen if the referendum and election were to be held on the same day.
If history is any guide, the 250-strong Senate, which was appointed by the junta, has rarely broken ranks with the powers that be.
Last year, the Senate stalled the House’s motion for a new charter drafting assembly, citing the need for a prevalent referendum.
More importantly, some elements in the Senate or government may be afraid the charter move will enable the opposition, which has pushed hard for such changes, to claim the credit.
It should be added that pollsters from leading academic institutes have mentioned the dire need for a new charter that gives the people a real say.
The Senate’s term is due to run out in less than two years, which means the proposed referendum will have no effect on its status which would have expired before the new charter is in place.
So, the Senate should grab the chance to do the country a service, paying heed to the people’s voice, and take actions that are instrumental in abolishing the military-sponsored 2017 charter that has been a source of so much political conflict.