The vote of the National Reform Council (NRC) for or against the draft constitution on 6 September 2015 is a pivotal point for Thai politics. At the end of the line, however, people will be given two main choices: whether to prolong the life of the Thai junta; or to have an elected government by late 2016, which will be lorded over by a ‘Crisis Panel’, a Thai style ‘Politburo’.
On 6 September 2015, the NRC will vote whether to accept or to reject the latest draft constitution, which has been crafted by the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC). If the draft is approved by the NRC and a public referendum, a general election could be held as soon as August 2016. However, the newly elected government would have to work under the supervision of a National Strategic Reform and Reconciliation Committee, commonly referred to as a Crisis Panel, an extra-parliamentary body with supreme power over the executive and legislative branches. The Crisis Panel would remain in office until at least 2021.
But if the draft constitution is rejected by a majority of NRC members or in the public referendum, the lifespan of the current Thai junta will be prolonged and the draft constitution will be rewritten by a new CDC, whose members will again all be appointed by the Thai junta. The general election will be delayed until the end of 2017.
Prachatai outlines three most likely scenarios after the NRC’s decision on the draft constitution on 6 September 2015.
3 Choices of ‘Thai Democracy’ given by the junta (Click here for larger image)
2016 Constitution: Crisis Panel Version
Under the first scenario, if the National Reform Council (NRC) passes the draft constitution and the public referendum votes for it, the 2016 Constitution will come into force and a general election will be held in August 2016. This constitution features 450-470 lower house representatives in parliament, 300 elected by constituencies and 150-170 on a regional party-list basis in accordance to Article 101. Under Article 118, there will be 200 senators, 77 elected, one from each province, and 123 appointed by the Senate Selection Committee headed by the President of the Constitutional Court. The new charter also allows two thirds of the lower house to nominate a Prime Minister who does not have to be a member of parliament.
If it passes, the 2016 Charter will allow the National Strategic Committee for Reform and Reconciliation or the Crisis Panel to be in power for five years after the new charter is enacted. The Crisis Panel could also extend its term with the majority vote from the public referendum or from the parliament in accordance to Article 258 of the new charter. Under Article 260 of the upcoming 2016 constitution, there will be no more than 22 Crisis Panel members and another who will be the president of the panel. There are three main categories of members. The first category comprises members appointed automatically by their positions: the presidents of parliament and the senate, the PM, and the commanders-in-chief of the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Police. The second category are former Prime Ministers, former Presidents of the Supreme Court, and former Parliamentary Presidents, who will be nominated among themselves. 11 other seats on the Committee will be given to experts in political reform and the reconciliation process in accordance with the consensus of parliament.
In addition, under Article 261 of the new charter, the National Strategic Reform and Reconciliation Committee will have the authority to appoint members to 12 Subcommittees to further the national reform agenda during the transition process, including a National Reconciliation Subcommittee. According to Article 262, this Committee and its Subcommittees will form a grand coalition called the ‘National Council for Reform and Reconciliation’. Most importantly, the National Strategic Reform and Reconciliation Committee will be given the authority to propose laws regardless of lower house approval and will have veto power to reject laws proposed by the House of Representatives.
Powers of the National Strategic Reform and Reconciliation Committee under the transitory provisions
Under the transitory provisions of the 2016 Charter, the current junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly (NLA) will serve as the upper house until a new Senate is appointed under Article 274. After the enactment of the new constitution, under Article 277, representatives will be elected within 90 days and senators will be appointed within 150 days. The junta cabinet and the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) will be out of office once the new elected government replaces them in accordance to Article 278.
Article 280 of the transitory provisions of the new charter also state the National Strategic Reform and Reconciliation Committee has supreme power to ensure national security and stability if “there is a need to protect the national integrity and independence and to suppress threats to national security, the Thai monarchy, and the economy or threats of violent conflict in the nation within five years after the enactment of the constitution.”
The provision also states that the National Strategic Reform and Reconciliation Committee, with a vote of two-thirds of its members, can take "all necessary measures" to act in these circumstances after consulting the presidents of the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Administrative Court. All orders and actions of the Committee are considered legal and supreme.
In addition, Article 285 of the transitory provisions of the new charter give impunity to all measures taken by the junta’s leader and NCPO committees during the transition period prior to the enactment of the new constitution. This article also states that the newly elected government will be able to amend the orders and announcements of the NCPO, which will remain in force even after the new government comes to power, only by passing formal acts. However, the National Strategic Reform and Reconciliation Committee will have the authority to rule whether any proposed law could be enacted.
* Written by Pongpan Chumjai, translated by Kongpob Areerat