Parliament rejects civil society’s draft constitutional amendment

After parliamentary scrutiny of constitutional amendments was delayed for a month, only 2 out of 7 drafts passed the first reading: the proposal by the government coalition and one of those by the opposition to amend Section 256 allowing the establishment of a Constitution Drafting Assembly.

The Parliament House of Thailand

Here is a summary of the parliamentary votes [Source: elect.in.th]

Draft

Proposal

Adopt

Reject

Abstain

1st

Opposition coalition excluding the Move Forward Party: to amend Section 256 to establish an elected Constitution Drafting Assembly

577

21

121

2nd

Government coalition: to amend Section 256 to establish a partly elected, partly appointed Constitution Drafting Assembly

647

17

55

3rd

Opposition coalition: to remove senate’s authority over the National Strategy (Sections 270-271)

213

34

472

4th

Opposition coalition: to remove senate’s right to vote for the PM

(Sections 159 and 272)

266

21

432

5th

Opposition coalition: to delegitimize NCPO orders (Section 279)

209

50

460

6th

Opposition coalition: to reinstate each voter’s right to vote for both constituency MPs and the party list

268

19

432

7th

Civil society organization iLaw: a more comprehensive proposal described in detail below

212

138

369

* 13 parliamentarians were absent from the meeting.

4 MPs and 3 senators rejected all the drafts. The MPs are Chanwit Wiphusiri and Nataphol Teepsuwan (Education Minister) of the Palang Pracharat Party, Chumpol Julsai of the Democrat Party, and Supol Julsai of the Ruam Palang Prachachart Thai Party, who all participated in the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) movement which called for a coup to overthrow the Yingluck Shinawatra administration in 2014.

The rejectionist senators were Gen Thawatchai Samutsakorn, Acting Sub Lt Wongsiam Phengphanichaphakdi and Surasit Treethong.

According to The Reporters, Yingcheep Atchanont, the iLaw Manager who gave a presentation in parliament, expressed his disappointment that senators and some MPs did not argue on the principles, but rather criticized the legal approach and questioned iLaw’s financial support from foreign organizations. 

However, he still thought that this was a good beginning because the people had expressed their demands and some principles were accepted by senators and MPs.

He also said that as the initiator of the draft, iLaw had accomplished its role in proposing the constitutional amendment and would continue their work. iLaw would not be running for membership of the constitution drafting assembly as it was not the principle of iLaw. But they would monitor the formation of the assembly and if it was not entirely elected, they would definitely object.

“One more thing is that we can still have expectations of all the MPs who spoke today in support of the principles. Some said that they largely agreed apart from certain technical details. But as they voted against the draft in today’s discussion, for the other principles that they accept, they still have the authority, as members of Parliament, to join more than 90 people to re-submit the draft later." 

"They don’t need to wait for people to collect hundreds of thousands of documents to submit to parliament again. This is what we can call for. Anyone who sees any principles that can be jointly accepted, that should exist in this country, they can help call for them and drive them forward. There are many ways to achieve a constitutional amendment.”

The iLaw version establishes an all-elected constitutional drafting committee, using the whole country as an electoral district. It disqualifies senators, members of independent organizations and others appointed by the military government. It abolishes the provision allowing an unelected PM, the amnesty that the military government awarded to itself, the voting system where one ballot is counted for both constituency and party-list MPs, and the 20-year National Strategy.

It is interesting to see how fragmented the voting was, especially among senators who have a reputation of being a rubber stamp that votes unanimously in favour of the government interests. This was seen after the 2019 general election when all 250 senators voted for Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha as PM.

Senators' voices this time were quite diverse; most adopted the first and the second drafts, like the government parties, but for the 4th-7th drafts, their votes and opinions differed. There were even 3 senators and some government MPs who voted for iLaw’s draft. The opposition parties, with the exception of 2 MPs from Pheu Thai, voted in favour of all 7 drafts.