Monday, April 20, 2009

Thai PM seeks a just solution

Across-the-board nod to constitutional changes


Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has given political parties two weeks to propose amendments to the constitution which will help defuse tensions.

Mr Abhisit yesterday said the effort to get people talking could address the political conflicts which drove people on to the streets and into committing violence.

"To those who are still protesting and demanding democracy, I assure you that the government is ready to respond by inviting parties to brainstorm," Mr Abhisit said on his weekly television chat.

"Let us use a peaceful method, a legal procedure, a dialogue to reach the goal. It may also tackle the root cause of the protests and political strife." The prime minister expects the parties to submit details of constitutional provisions they found unjust or undemocratic.

The proposals would be put to the public for debate.

Mr Abhisit said he was open to changing a provision of the constitution on political wrongdoing.

The controversial Article 237 deals with the dissolution of political parties.

The provision calls for the dissolution of a party if its leader or executive members are found guilty of electoral fraud. All executives of the party are banned from politics for five years should the provision be invoked.

Mr Abhisit said there should be a distinction between political wrongdoing and criminal charges such as rioting, corruption and abuse of power.

He also defended his own government's imposition of emergency rule and the legal action taken against protest leaders in the wake of the violence over Songkran.

He said security authorities had not applied double standards when dealing with the People's Alliance for Democracy and the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship protests.

"Arrest warrants are sought against people who declare they will continue fighting. Some of them even say their operations will be clandestine. It is an obvious threat to national security.

"If last year's protesters [the PAD] declared that they would act as a threat to national security, they too would have been subject to arrest warrants." Mr Abhisit has instructed police to speed up investigations into all pending cases to ensure justice.

He said the measures were being taken to restore peace and allow the government to tackle "real problems" which include the economic downturn and unemployment.

Dissolving the House now was unlikely to solve any problem as long as there remains social divisions.

"Elections could be marred with violence. It will worsen the image of democratic society in Thailand," he said.

Mr Abhisit's call for charter amendments, especially to the contentious provisions, was welcomed by his coalition partners and the Puea Thai party.

Sanan Kachornprasart, of Chart Thai Pattana, said Mr Abhisit's approach left the door open for negotiation, which was welcome.

"The charter amendments will leave room to breathe. When peace returns to the streets, a House dissolution and fresh elections can lift the country out of the crisis," he said.

Chumpol Silpa-archa, leader of Chart Thai Pattana, suggested that the Election Commission and the Supreme Court get involved in considering an amnesty for party executives who were not involved in electoral fraud.

Puea Thai MP for Yasothon Pirapan Palusuk said the party agreed with the charter amendments, and thought the process should not take more than two months.

He believed two charter amendments and two fresh elections should be enough to mend social divisions.

"After the amendments, Mr Abhisit should call new elections. A new parliament then amends the charter, dissolves the House and calls for fresh elections. Through this we can end the problem of 'colour politics'," he said.

Thossaporn Serirak, a banned executive from the Thai Rak Thai party, welcomed the proposed changes to the charter but said the cases against deposed former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra should be reviewed.

He said the Ratchadaphisek land trial in which Thaksin was found guilty and sentenced to two years in prison was a result of the 2006 coup.

He said investigators of the dissolved Assets Scrutiny Committee were appointed by the coup-makers and some were biased.

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