135,000 voter-supported constitutional amendment rejected at the first reading

A joint parliamentary session has dismissed a draft constitutional amendment, proposed by the Re-Solution group and related networks.  The draft was backed by over 135,000 voters.

Fences bar people from entering the Democracy Monument. A banner states 'Do not enter without prior approval. Under maintenance'.

To pass the first reading, the draft needed 362 votes from a joint parliament, including one-third of the Senate, a minimum 84 senators. The draft received 203 votes in favour from the House of the Representatives but only 3 from the Senate.  Naowarat Pongpaiboon, Pisan Manawapat and Monthian Boontan are the senators who backed the proposal. 

This is the second time the constitutional amendment has been proposed by civil groups. The first version proposed by iLaw, a legal watchdog NGO was rejected in November last year.

This new draft proposal was submitted by iLaw, Re-Solution group, the Progressive Movement and the Move Forward Party. Supported by 135,000 eligible voters, the draft called for several key changes to the current 2017 constitution.  

Nicknamed the “Uproot Prayut Regime” amendment, it sought to roll back the legislative legacy of the post-2014 government, repealing a number of the junta’s orders including its mandated 20 year national development strategy. It also called for reform of independent governmental institutions like the Constitution Court and stipulated punishment for staging coups.

One of more hotly debated changes was a plan to abolish the senate and establish a unicameral parliament, a House of the Representatives. 

How can the constitution be amended

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.

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