The parliament will reopen debate on constitutional amendments on 22-24 June, a major event that will affect the Kingdom’s political structure. After the issue was delayed in 2020 and withdrawn in 2021, political parties and civil society have another chance to address what they see as hindrances to democratization and political advantage.
Protesters hold hands, preventing people from trespassing on the Democracy Monument during the protest on 13 February 2021.
As of 17 June, 3 sets of proposals have been submitted.
Palang Pracharat Party (PPRP) proposals
After succeeding in crushing the 2020 amendment proposals by having the Constitutional Court review the legitimacy of parliament’s authority to amend the whole constitution in March 2021, the government party submitted proposals on 2 April with 5 amendments to 15 Sections:
- Change the electoral system back to a 2-ballot system. Increase the number of constituency MPs from 350 to 400 and decrease party-list MPs from 150 to 100. Reduce the maximum period for announcing election results from 60 to 30 days.
- Allow only parties with at least 100 constituency MP candidates to propose candidates for party-list seats. If this has been applied to the last election, only 10 parties would have qualified.
- Any political party with less than 1 percent of the countrywide vote will not qualify for any party-list seats and its votes will not be counted in the allocation of party-list seats.
- Amend Section 144, allowing representatives and senators to engage with the state authorities in order to help people. The current charter considers this as intervention.
- Amend Section 270 in the Transitory Provisions so as to grant the MPs power to oversee the National Strategy. At present it is now the sole responsibility of the Senate.
Government coalition parties’ proposals
On 16 June, the Democrat, Bhumjaithai and Chart Thai Pattana parties submitted 9 separate amendment motions. The last three are from Bhumjaithai alone.
- Amend provisions related to the people’s rights, including legal rights, community rights and consumer rights.
- Change the electoral system to a 2-ballot system with 400 constituency MPs and 100 party-list MPs.
- Make it mandatory that the PM be nominated from among MPs. In the current constitution, parties can nominate anyone, which allowed Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha to be nominated despite being neither an MP nor a Senator.
- Amend Section 256 so that constitutional amendments require a two-third majority. The current Section requires only a majority vote. There must also be supporting votes from the Senate and the Opposition.
- Amend the procedure for investigating a member of the National Anti-Corruption Commission by setting up an independent commission to consider forwarding the case to the Supreme Court. The current constitution gives this role to the President of Parliament.
- Decentralize more power to local administrations.
- Amend Section 272, removing the Senate’s power to vote for the PM.
- Give the state a mandate to lift the people's income above the poverty line of 36,000 baht per year.
- Make the National Strategy, a 20-year master plan designed by the junta, more flexible.
Opposition coalition proposals
On 16 June, the Pheu Thai, Seri Ruam Thai, Pheu Chart, Move Forward, Prachachart, Phalang Puangchon Thai and Thai Civilized parties submitted 5 amendment proposals. The Move Forward Party supported only the second amendment regarding the Senate.
- Amend Section 256, allowing the establishment of a National Constitutional Drafting Committee instead of section-by-section amendments.
- Amend Section 272, removing the Senate’s power to vote for the PM.
- Amend provisions related to the people’s rights such as legal rights and the right to protect the constitution.
- Change elections to a 2 ballot system.
- Abolish the National Strategy.
(Source: BBC Thai, Daily News, Voice Online, Matichon)
In addition to the proposals from political parties, a group named “Re-Solution”, a collaboration among the Move Forward Party, the Progressive Movement and the civil society organizations iLaw, Elect and ConLab, is rushing to obtain 50,000 signatures in order to submit their amendment draft to parliament by the end of June.
As of 18 June, 17,463 people had signed to support the draft.
The Re-solution amendment proposal
- Abolish the Senate.
- Put limits to the Constitutional Court’s power and jurisdiction.
- Abolish the National Strategy and the National Reform Plan, which are legacies of the junta.
- Abolish any other remaining legacy of the 2014 coup.
Gambling over an election landslide
Changing the electoral system appears to be in every political party’s proposal. Returning to a two-ballot system means that the next election will be similar to those held under the 1997 and 2007 constitutions, where voters were given two ballots. One, for constituency MPs, would be counted under the first past the post system. The other, for party-list MPs, would be counted separately under some kind of proportional representation system.
The current one-ballot system, where the allocation of party-list seats inversely varies with the countrywide vote, created a fragmented parliament consisting of numerous party-list MPs from small parties and those that gained many votes but lost in the constituency battles. Parties that gained many MPs from the constituency election found it nigh impossible to gain more party-list seats.
The system has become the target for elimination among the major parties that are confident of winning the ground war at the constituencies and aim to gain additional party-list MPs.
The Move Forward Party (MFP), 35 of whose 53 MPs come from the proportional party list calculation, disagrees with a system where they would not benefit. Pita Limjaroenrat, the MFP leader, said the Party only supports the opposition parties’ amendment regarding the Senate in accordance with its long-standing efforts to reduce the Senate’s power.
MFP MP Rangsiman Rome posted on Facebook that the Pheu Thai Party was taking a risky gamble in supporting the electoral system proposed by the PPRP, which would take a toll of small parties as the number of party list seats decreases. If the PPRP turned out to be the winner in the next election, Pheu Thai would find it hard to find allies fighting for the same cause.
In addition to election concerns, Piyabutr Saengkanokkul, the Progressive Movement secretary-general, said that the PPRP amendment allowing MPs and senators to engage with the work of bureaucrats would put government MPs in a more advantageous position than opposition MPs.
Under the 2-ballot system, the MFP has been rallying for a ‘Mixed-member Proportional Representation (MMP)’ system. Party-list MPs will be allocated to compensate for the first past the post constituency votes. The number of party-list MP seats that a political party gains will be calculated by their percentage of the nationwide vote minus the number of the constituency MPs it has obtained.
It should be noted that there is no attempt to amend Chapters 1 and 2 regarding the principles of government and the monarchy.
Negative signs from the Senate
The senate has been the target of constitutional amendments since the first attempt in 2020. The 250 appointees selected by the junta have been granted the power to vote for the PM and take an important part in many steps in the constitutional amendment process where a number of their votes are required in order to pass resolutions.
The current attempts by the government coalition and the opposition to remove the Senate from taking part in choosing the PM received a negative reaction. Senator Seree Suwanpanon said the amendment proposal must benefit the people. Removing the Senate’s power is an “abuse of power” which he disagrees with. On his appointment to the Senate, Seree famously said “I believe in democratic dictatorship. I don’t believe in fake democracy.”
Kittisak Ratanawaraha, another Senator and former member of the military-appointed National Legislative Assembly, said the Senate has basically agreed to vote in favour of only the proposal from PPRP. The attempts to debar the Senate from voting for the PM will not make the cut as it needs one-third, or 85 of the Senate’s votes.
In the last amendment vote in November 2020, under strong pressure from inside parliament and the mass protests, 56 senators voted in favour of amending Section 272 to debar themselves from voting for the PM, an act that was described in the media as “cutting off their own hands”.
If Kittisak’s statement is true, then the attempt to reduce the Senate's power will end in failure again, with fewer votes expected from Senators.
How will it go from here?
The amendment process under the 2017 Constitution is harder and more complicated than those of the 2007 and 1997 constitutions. Section 256 of the 2017 Constitution is central to the problem. Under the previous constitutions, parliament required only a majority vote to pass a motion. There was no specification over the percentage of votes required from members of the House of Representatives or members of the Senate.
Under the 2017 Constitution, a proposal can be made either by the cabinet, one-fifth of the current members of House of Representatives, one-fifth of members of House of Representatives and Senate, or 50,000 citizens eligible to vote. When entering the floor of parliament, the proposal will go through three readings.
The first reading is to approve the principles of the constitutional amendment. It requires at least one half of the total votes in parliament (375 from both the House of Representatives and the Senate). At least one-third of the unelected senators is also required to pass the motion.
The second reading considers the constitutional amendment in detail. These shall be approved by a majority vote of parliament. If the amendment is proposed by citizens, the citizens who have proposed the amendment can send a delegate to speak in the parliament. If the motion passes the second reading, there is an interval of 15 days before the third reading begins.
The third reading also requires a majority vote of the parliament. However, that majority must also include one-third of the Senate, and 20 percent of MPs from all political parties which do not hold positions as cabinet members, Speaker of House of Representatives, or Deputy Speaker of House of Representatives.
Even though there have been prohibitions against changing the form of state in every constitution throughout Thailand’s history, there has been no restriction against amending specific chapters or sections. Even then, some sections are more difficult to amend than others under the 2017 Constitution.
After the third reading, there will be an interval of 15 days before the Prime Minister sends the final draft to the King to sign. However, the government must hold a national referendum if the constitution amendment involves Chapter 1 (General Provisions), Chapter 2 (The King), or Chapter 15 (Amendment to the Constitution).
The government must also hold a referendum if the amendment involves qualifications and prohibitions of persons holding the positions under the Constitution, the duties or powers of the Court or Independent Organs, or rendering the Court or an Independent Organs unable to act in accordance with its duties or powers.
If the amendment is suspected of being unconstitutional, one-tenth of the total number of the current members of parliament has the right to file a joint petition with the Constitutional Court where it shall be decided within 30 days whether the draft would amount to “changing the democratic regime of government with the King as Head of State or changing the form of the State” according to Section 255.