Judges rule Thai constitution can be altered
Thailand’s ruling party is to push ahead with plans to change the constitution after a court ruled that proposed amendments did not threaten the revered monarchy, a charge that might have led to the party’s dissolution.
The decision yesterday means the government is not in danger of falling and should ease political tensions in the country.
The Constitutional Court ruled that the government would need the go-ahead from a referendum before an elected assembly could rewrite the whole constitution, but it left the way open for parts to be changed without taking such a step.
Puea Thai party spokesman Prompong Nopparit said: “We are sad that the Thai people won’t have a chance to change the charter through elected representatives, but we are likely to proceed with changing the constitution article by article.”
The government of Yingluck Shinawatra maintains that its proposed changes are part of efforts to bring reconciliation to Thailand, altering a constitution seen by some as undemocratic.
Opponents had argued the changes would threaten the constitutional monarchy and that one undeclared aim was to pave the way for former premier Thaksin Shinawatra to return from self-imposed exile without serving time in jail for a graft conviction.
Thaksin is Yingluck’s brother and is believed to be the real power behind her government, directing it from his home in Dubai. A populist former telecoms billionaire, he is adored by the poor but reviled by the royalist establishment and the military, which toppled him in a coup in 2006.
“This is a historic moment for Thailand and we will continue to support the government,” said Thida Thawornseth, leader of the red shirts’ United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship.
The ruling was watched closely because it could have opened another front in Thailand’s divide between the royalist establishment and the mostly lower-class red shirts.
Powerful royalists oppose any change to the constitution, enacted under a military-backed government in 2007.
Nurak Mapraneet, one of the two judges who read out the verdict in court, said: “The whole constitution cannot be changed but an amendment to separate articles in the current constitution can proceed … If you want to change the whole constitution, you will have to ask the opinion of the Thai people first.”
That verdict will allow the government time to work how out to proceed without giving either its supporters or opponents too much cause to protest.
Siripan Nogsuan Sawasdee, associate professor in the political science faculty at Chulalongkorn University, said: “This is a ruling that keeps the balance between the opposition and the ruling party. I believe that the referendum will allow the whole charter to be amended because of the overwhelming support for this government.”
She added that the opposition Democrats should also be pleased because the process could not now be pushed through quickly.
One article in the current constitution gives additional power to the judiciary and independent agencies that helped investigate corruption charges against him after Thaksin was deposed. If it were amended, the legitimacy of action taken during the coup and after could be questioned.
Thaksin’s red shirts effectively paralysed central Bangkok with a mass rally in April and May 2010 before a military crackdown ended it. At least 91 people died in the violence. However, in some recent speeches made to rallies via video link, Thaksin has appeared more willing to compromise on the conditions for his return, telling his red shirt supporters to be patient since reconciliation would take time.
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