Charter drafters aim to strengthen watchdogs

pix - 1The Constitution Drafting Committee wants to strengthen the status of watchdog agencies to promote stronger checks and balances on government, but the Committee’s chairman also said last week drafters need to find ways to increase public trust in those independent agencies so they will be truly empowered.

Committee Chairman Meechai Ruchupan also predicted a first draft of the new charter will be ready in January for the public to scrutinize, debate and offer inputs. Drafting and passage of a new constitution is a key milestone on the government’s roadmap to build a sustainable democracy and hold new national elections. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has urged charter drafters to work as quickly as possible. Elections will most likely be held in 2017.

Meechai made the January prediction during a briefing on the charter drafting process and progress at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to a group of ambassadors along with representatives of the United Nations and other international organizations. A ministry spokesman said the diplomats and representatives had few questions about the charter process and were chiefly concerned about when the draft would be available for the public to read and consider.

A key challenge for the drafters is find an acceptable and workable model that provides for strong checks and balances in the political system without constraining the legislative and executive branches to the point where they are ineffective.

During the 1990s, under a constitution drafted early in the decade by military rulers, Thailand was saddled with weak coalition governments that frequently collapsed. That led to a reform movement that resulted in the drafting of a constitution in 1997 that paved the way for the emergence of larger parties with a stronger more stable hold on the reins of government and stronger executive power.

However, that charter’s system of checks and balances proved too weak to stop abuse of power, corruption and conflict of interest among elected officials and bureaucrats.

Also, watchdogs such as the Election Commission and National Anti-Corruption Commission, ended up filing the majority of their charges and cases against members of the political party that has the most support among the public. That led to allegations of bias and an erosion of support among some segments of the public, even though evidence of election irregularities and corruption was often clear.

“Good rules should be formulated [for them] so that when we give them power there won’t be any problem or criticism that there’s discrimination. We’ll have to be careful,” Chairman Meechai said.

The Senate, which was an elected body under the 1997 constitution, was supposed to be composed of independent eminent members of society in order to check the political rough and tumble of the House of Representatives. But it turned out that many senators had ties to political parties and so did not serve as a balance to the lower house.  That prompted the formation of a largely appointed Senate under the 2007 constitution.



Thailand Focus Week of October 26, 2015
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