The Constitution Advocacy Alliance (CALL), a civil society network campaigning for constitutional amendments, has condemned the constitutional amendment committee for barring them from conducting a Facebook live recording of their meetings and having security officers take them away.
The committee held meetings on 21-22 January which were postponed from 17 December, 2020, with the Covid-19 resurgence as a reason. Upon its return on 21 January, Charuwan Sathalalai of CALL asked the committee chairperson for permission to conduct a Facebook live recording of the meeting. The chairperson acknowledged her request.
During the recording, some committee members raised concern over Charuwan’s presence, citing she was not a media representative and did not have accreditation from the Public Relations Department (PRD). Charuwan was later asked repeatedly to stop recording by some of the MPs and others claiming to be MPs’ secretaries.
At around 12.00, when committee members were having lunch while continuing with the discussion, parliamentary staff asked Charuwan to stop recording, out of concern over the inappropriate image of members eating. Charuwan replied that she would stop when the last speaker finished the discussion. However, the televised broadcast in the meeting room itself was cut.
No further broadcast was made that day.
On 22 January, Charuwan submitted a petition to the committee chairperson to officially conduct a Facebook live recording, repeating the broadcast the day before. Before the beginning of the meeting at 09.30, the televised broadcast was cut again.
As Charuwan was waiting for the committee’s response to the petition, a security officer and parliamentary police officers showed up and escorted her out of the parliament building at 11.10, using the Covid-19 outbreak as a reason.
At 12.10, Charuwan received a phone call from Nikorn Chamnong, Chartthaipattana Party MP in the government coalition, apologizing for the incident. Nikorn said what happened at parliament was a “misunderstanding”. People can still sit in the meeting room but are not allowed to conduct Facebook live recordings whatsoever.
Sira Jenjaka, the committee spokesperson, in a media interview at 13.00, was questioned over the ban on conducting a live broadcast from the meeting room, and stated that the person who conducted the recording was not ‘neutral’ and had criticized committee members’ ideas that she did not agree with. Other media were still allowed to broadcast the meeting.
CALL responded to the incident with a statement that the live broadcast from the meeting room on 21 January was approved by the committee chairperson. This proves that the recording was not conducted secretly. But on 22 January, the committee voted 20-8 in favour of stopping the broadcast. This aroused concern over the fate of the ongoing constitutional amendment process.
“In the belief in the right to information, including the need for the people to monitor the process of amending the constitution that is happening in the committee meetings, it is totally improper to proceed under this kind of discussion within a committee of 45 members, because any result that comes from amending the 2017 Constitution amendment will certainly affect the development of democracy, or may become merely a continuation of undemocratic power. The attempt to push the people to become just those outside the process is something that is not acceptable.
“The Constitution Advocacy Alliance, which is a coalition of civil society and the people’s sector countrywide, wishes to condemn the obstruction to accessing information on the constitutional amendment process. We still hope that the Committee will have a change of heart and be ready to work with transparency and without fear of the people watching them.” CALL called for the media to keep on monitoring the amendment process.
The constitutional amendment process results from the parliament vote on draft amendments on 18 November 2020. 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 least common denominator among all parties that does not touch upon key elements of the power structure devised by the military coup-makers, like the junta-appointed senate or independent organizations.
A constitution amendment petition signed by around 100,000 voters, which was designed to abolish much of the junta’s legacy in the 2017 Constitution, did not receive enough votes from MPs and Senators to get past the first reading.