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Thai constitutional court overrules another charter amendment

Publication Date : 09-01-2014


Thailand's caretaker government was dealt another setback on Wednesday when the country's Constitutional Court overruled an amendment to its charter easing requirements for overseas treaties.

The clause in question requires all treaties and contracts signed with other countries to be approved by parliament. The parliamentary amendment last year attempted to limit the scope of these approvals.

The court, in rejecting the amendment, said it would reduce the political system's checks and balances.

Wednesday's ruling was the latest in a series of legal challenges put before the caretaker government of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who is also readying for massive disruption in the capital on Monday next week as street protesters attempt to dislodge her from her post.

On Tuesday, the National Anti-Corruption Commission said it would investigate 308 politicians - mostly from Yingluck's Puea Thai party - for wrongdoing over an attempt to amend the charter to make the Senate a fully elected body. This NACC ruling followed a Constitutional Court ruling that outlawed this change in the charter.

As a result, the Puea Thai's ability to form a functioning government after the February 2 general election looks shaky, even though it is widely expected to win the polls should they take place. The party won a landslide victory in 2011 on the back of strong support from the rural masses in the populous northeast and north.

The constitutional amendments now stymied were aimed at reversing the changes put in place by the 2007 charter. This was drawn up by an interim administration put in place after the 2006 military coup that deposed then premier Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's brother, now living in Dubai to avoid a jail term for corruption.

Apart from requiring parliamentary scrutiny of all overseas treaties, the 2007 charter turned a previously fully elected senate to a body with about half of its members appointed, a crucial change given that the Upper House needs to endorse members of important institutions like the National Anti-Corruption Commission and the Constitutional Court.

Thaksin's critics argue that Puea Thai's charter changes are aimed at easing his return to Thailand or aiding his business interests.

Constitutional expert Gothom Arya, who heads Mahidol University's peace building centre, said proponents of the amendment wanted a clearer definition of what could or could not be done without parliamentary approval.

"I don't think it's that big a deal… but given the lack of confidence (in Puea Thai), whatever initiative taken by the previous administration would be strongly opposed by its opponents and the court," he told The Straits Times.

Apart from the legal challenges, the anti-Puea Thai factions, including the middle class of Bangkok and the royalist elites, are also disrupting election preparations.

They see Yingluck as a puppet of her brother Thaksin and want to dislodge her caretaker government and establish a "people's council" that would enact political reforms. The opposition Democrat Party is boycotting the polls.

Protester blockades of election registration venues in the south - a Democrat stronghold - have already deprived 28 constituencies of candidates, beyond the number of seats allowed vacant for the House of Representatives to open a new session.

Emboldened by a military that has remained distinctly aloof in the two-month long political conflict, the protesters have set their sights on eradicating all traces of the "Thaksin regime" in the kingdom.

The campaign angered pro-government "red shirt" supporters, who have been drawing up plans to retaliate should the military launch a coup.


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