constitution’must balance’ state power

Constitution ‘must balance’ state powers Chuan urges scrutiny of ‘bad’ politicians Published: 8 Nov 2014 at 06.00 on Bangkok post.

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The charter drafting process must focus on maintaining the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches of government, according to Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam.

He argued that previous constitutions had attempted to do this but failed.

The deputy prime minister was speaking at an annual academic seminar hosted by the King Prajadhipok’s Institute entitled « Eight Decades of Democracy: Dynamism of the Balance of Powers ».

Mr Wissanu said the ideal political system is one in which the public chooses their MPs, who will then select the prime minister. But in reality, he said the government controls MPs. This is why other public independent agencies must be established to do what the House of Representatives fails to.

He referred to the example of a case where MPs could not initiate a no-confidence debate against ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra because his party controlled a majority in the House.

Mr Wissanu said the « balance of power » issue should also be extended to cover local administrative organisations, political office holders and state officials.

He also stressed that the new constitution, to be drawn up by the 36-member Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC), should be inclusive, simple and concise. It should lay out of powers and responsibilities, while the details should be handled by organic laws, he said.

However, those organic laws must first be examined by the Constitutional Court to avoid lengthy and inconclusive debates, Mr Wissanu claimed, citing the controversial example of Section 7 of the abolished 2007 charter.

Section 7 is an open-ended measure to deal with problems not covered by any other provisions in the charter. During the political crisis, debate raged on whether Section 7 should be invoked to allow the appointment of an interim government.

Meanwhile, former Democrat leader and prime minister Chuan Leekpai said the charter should introduce mechanisms for scrutiny of political office holders, because it is not possible for the charter to block « bad people » from entering politics.

Mr Chuan also said the role of the opposition in parliament provides vital checks and balances, especially when public independent agencies are weak. But the opposition has so far faced limitations in performing its duty, he said, urging charter drafters not to test their ideas using the country as a guinea pig.

Sombat Thamrongthanyawong, a member of National Reform Council and a charter writer, said the priority is to identify weaknesses in the current parliamentary system.

One weakness is that a majority of MPs must select the prime minister, he said, claiming this leads to massive spending by politicians to buy their way to power and « parliamentary dictatorship ».

Mr Sombat said if these weaknesses cannot be fixed, the system is no longer efficient and should be discontinued.

He suggested that having a directly elected prime minister would not be too similar to a presidential system, because the prime minister is only the head of the executive branch, not the head of state.

Anek Laothammatat, an NRC member, proposed that a party must win more than a simple majority of votes to form a government. It could require two-thirds or three-quarters of MPs to set up an administration, he said, arguing this would strengthen checks and balances.

Pradit Ruangdit, president of the Thai Journalists Association and an NRC member, said the new constitution should be designed to address problems in society. He said participatory democracy should be promoted to allow people to make decisions on matters that affect them.

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