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NLA likely to back second vote query

Posted by pakin On April - 7 - 2016 ADD COMMENTS

The National Legislative Assembly (NLA) is expected to vote in support of a question to be added in a national referendum that could support the powers of an appointed Senate to select a prime minister.

An appointed Senate during a five-year post-election transitional period, pushed by the military regime, is a last-minute change made to the draft charter. It is seen by critics as a means during the first five years to control elected representatives.

The NLA is scheduled to consider the referendum question Thursday.

NLA member Kittisak Rattanavaraha said based on an internal poll of the NLA, around 140 NLA members (about 60%) are in favour of adding the question of whether parliament, in which the selected Senate is seen to be under control of the regime, should vote to elect the prime minister during the transitional period.

He said the findings were based on an internal survey through the Line chat application.

Mr Kittisak said the question should have one focus otherwise it will contravene the interim charter which allows only a single question to be asked at the planned referendum.

“If we also include ‘Should the Senate vote in a no-confidence debate?’ in the questions, it could be considered as two questions,” he said.

An NLA source said NLA whips have agreed the extra question which could be asked at a charter referendum scheduled to take place in early August, should be the one suggested by the National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA), which is whether an appointed Senate should be allowed to select the prime minister during the post-election transitional period.

The content is seen as a challenge to the Constitution Drafting Committee’s (CDC) charter draft which gives this mandate to the House of Representatives.

Politicians and pro-democracy activists are strongly opposed to the Senate selecting a prime minister.

However, other NLA members on Thursday will propose different questions for the chamber to consider, the source said.

The source said other possible questions include whether parliament should have a mandate to appoint or impeach cabinet members and whether parliament should have the powers to supervise an elected government.

NLA members who are expected to propose different questions include Gen Somjet Boonthanom, Gen Singsuek Singphrai, Adm Chumnoom Artwong, and Wanlop Tangkhananurak.

Mr Wanlop said he will Thursday propose including a question of whether both the lower and upper houses should vote in a no-confidence motion against cabinet ministers accused of graft and corruption.

He said senators should be able to join the House of Representatives in voting on a censure motion, but they should not be empowered to initiate a no-confidence vote.

NLA vice-president Surachai Liangboonlertchai admitted Wednesday that NLA members are divided over the wording and will meet Thursday to finalise the referendum question.

NLA whip Adm Yutthana Fakpholngam said it is up to the NLA to vote on what the questions should be and insisted there is no “prescription from the military regime”.

Meanwhile, NLA whip spokesman Jate Siratharanont said the NLA on Thursday will scrutinise the referendum bill in its second and final reading.

The draft law bans people from disseminating any texts, pictures or voice messages via any media that are false, aggressive, rude, inflammatory or coercive in order to persuade eligible voters not to vote, to vote in a particular way or to choose the no-vote option in the referendum.

A jail term of up to 10 years, a fine of up to 200,000 baht and suspended electoral rights would be imposed on people found guilty of having manipulated the Aug 7 vote, Mr Jate said.

The bill recommends the courts suspend the electoral rights of violators for up to five years. For a group of five or more violators, the suspension could be for up to 10 years, he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said Wednesday the government would decide without delay what steps would be taken if the charter fails to pass at the referendum. In that case the interim charter would be amended to address the issue.

THE NATIONAL Legislative Assembly (NLA) is likely to vote in support of the additional referendum question on allowing appointed senators to vote for the PM, a source said yesterday.

The selection is different from what the charter draft stipulated as the draft only allows MPs to select the PM.

The source said it was possible that the NLA would add content in the question to make it easier for the selection of non-elected PM candidates not on the list presented by political parties.

The charter draft provisions allow for a selection of non-elected PM candidates not on the lists of political parties but they require the approval of two thirds of both the Upper and Lower houses or 500 votes out of 700 in total. Political observers believe it would be difficult to achieve such a ratio.

The source said some NLA members also want the appointed senators to have the power to grill the government in no-confidence motions.

However Constitution Drafting Commission (CDC) chairman Meechai Ruchupan disapproves of the move, citing the fact that senators did not form the government.

The source said it was likely the charter draft would pass the referendum but the additional question may not pass because “it is too extreme”.

The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) would not lose but only gain if the public accepts the question since the council could claim that it was the public’s desire, the source said.

The interim charter stipulates that if the people accept the additional question, the CDC must amend the charter draft to comply with voter desire.

The CDC would have to seek a Constitutional Court ruling for any charter provision that did not comply with the results of the referendum and amend the document.

Meanwhile, amending the charter draft to respond to the results of the referendum question would be possible, Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said.

The NLA voted last week to propose the extra referendum question on whether the public agrees that selected senators should be allowed to vote for a prime minister to serve during the five-year transitional period following the next general election.

Critics have noted that if voters accept both the charter draft and allow selected senators to vote for the prime minister there would be a conflict, because the charter draft specifies a different process to select the next premier.

But Wissanu, one of the government’s top legal advisers, dismissed the criticism, saying people might not agree with all the provisions in the charter but they could decide whether to accept the draft as a whole.

“When there is a specific question, voters have the right to answer such a question. It is common,” Wissanu said.

Deputy Democrat Party leader Ongart Klampaiboon said amending the charter to allow senators to vote for the prime minister could be interpreted as violating the will of voters who would have voted for a charter specifying a different selection process.

“If people knew the charter could be amended, they might not vote to accept it,” he said.

He said senators handpicked by the NCPO should not have equal power to MPs, who are elected by the people.

Ongart said an additional question in the referendum would cause confusion. He also urged the NLA to carefully select the question by taking public interest into account.

Wissanu said the NLA did not have to use the additional question suggested by the National Reform Steering Assembly and could craft its own question.

“The additional question will not cause confusion but clarity,” he said.

Election on schedule

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said an election would still be held next year if the charter draft does not pass the referendum, but added that the NCPO did not need to reveal what charter would be chosen as an alternative to the current draft.

Politicians have said the public has a right to know before the referendum which previous charter would be adopted if they rejected the draft.

NLA members expressed support for the additional referendum question presented by the NRSA.

NLA member Witawad Boonyasatid said the public had to accept that the country still faces political instability with the latest incident of politicians distributing red bowls with the signature of ex-premier ThaksinShinawatra.

He said it was possible that the former PM could instigate further political turmoil after the election.

He said the country needed senators to help ensure peace during the five-year interim period. The appointed senators would not be given too much power – they would not have the right to grill the elected government in a no-confidence motion, but may be allowed to help select the next prime minister. The NLA would vote on Thursday what question should be used, he said.

“Other questions are not as weighty. No one has ordered the NLA to make a [particular] decision in regard to the extra referendum question,” he said.

NLA Kittisak Rattanawaraha said the most talked about question among NLA members was whether both Houses [in Parliament] should vote on who will be next PM. He said most members agreed that this question should be put to voters – they felt other questions such as the double-ballot electoral system and appointing an independent panel to bring about national reconciliation carry less weight.

The International Ombudsman Institute (IOI) is the only cooperative organisation representing independent ombudsmen around the world.

It will hold its 11th World Conference in Bangkok this November.

Secretary General Gunther Krauter, who is also the Austrian ombudsman, talked to The Nation’s political desk about the event and the role of ombudsman institutions.

CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE IOI IN A FEW WORDS?

The IOI is the only global non-political organisation of parliamentary Ombuds-institutions. It was established in 1978 in Canada and since 2009 has its headquarters in Vienna. I have the honour of being the secretary general. Today, we have 175 members in more than 90 countries, six regions. The main duties of the IOI are to provide training for ombudsman staff, do research and offer regional subsidies.

WHAT ARE THE CORE RESPONSIBILITIES OF OMBUDSMAN INSTITUTIONS?

The core responsibilities are handling individual complaints of citizens against public administration, initiating ex-officio investigations, protecting and promoting human rights. Some Ombuds-institutions even have an anti-corruption mandate. If ombudsmen find cases of mal-administration, they have the power to make recommendations to authorities. They, therefore, can be seen as a permanent mirror for governments, administration officials and members of parliaments.

IN NOVEMBER THE 11TH IOI WORLD CONFERENCE WILL TAKE PLACE IN BANGKOK. WHAT IS THE PROCE?DURE TO CHOOSE A VENUE FOR SUCH A BIG EVENT?

Every four years, the IOI invites its members to attend a world-conference. In 2013, we conducted a tender to find a suitable and capable candidate. Applicant institutions from Asia, Africa and Europe presented their offers to the IOI board meeting in Vienna, The board mem?bers then voted in a secret ballot and elected the Ombudsman of Thailand to host the World Conference 2016. This will be the first time for the conference to be held in Asia.

WHAT ARE THE MAIN OBJECTIVES OF THE WORLD CONFERENCE?

I think there are two overriding goals. First, organisational course settings, such as the glob?al IOI electoral reform that foresees a more democratic voting procedure for officials of the IOI, introducing universal suffrage. Second, we concentrate on the “Evolution of Ombudsmanship” and discuss themes like a stronger human rights approach in the daily work of ombudsmen or the support of ombudsman-institutions under threat.

YOU MENTIONED OMBUDSMEN UNDER THREAT. WHAT KIND OF THREAT DO YOU MEAN, IN PARTICULAR?

Unfortunately, in some regions Ombudsman institutions are under pressure such as through financial cuts, or the loss of competence due to amendments of laws or privatisation, leaving citizens without protection. In special cases, authorities or even parliaments do not table the reports for discussion or institutions can be undermined in many ways. Therefore, the IOI is preparing the endorsement of a “Bangkok Declaration” to strengthen the concept of the independent ombudsman to protect and promote good governance and human rights.

WHAT IS THE “BANGKOK DECLARATION” EXPECTED TO CONTAIN?

First of all, the declaration will be a clear statement for democracy and the rule of law in all countries. It will also entail a perspective for a stronger human rights focus in the future, espe?cially by a close cooperation with citizens and civil society. Finally, the strengthening of our member institutions through a clear and straightforward procedure, if they are under threat.

WHAT DO YOU AS SECRETARY GENERAL PERSONALLY EXPECT FROM THE WORLD CONFERENCE?

I am convinced that the Ombudsman of Thailand will be a very professional and enthusiastic host. We can expect exciting discussions and far-reaching decisions. Hopefully, with the presence of so many independent ombudsmen, we will also contribute to democratic development in Thailand.

THE AUSTRIAN OMBUDSMAN OR THE “VOLKSANWALTSCHAFT” IS A BIG DEAL IN AUSTRIA. WHY IS IT SO POWERFUL AS AN INDEPENDENT INSTITU?TION?

The Austrian Ombudsman Board has existed for nearly 40 years and one of its most powerful tools is that ombudsmen are actually addressing the ministers directly and they take the cases very seriously.

Even though ministers are not legally accountable to the ombudsman and ombudsmen cannot impeach the ministers, we as ombudsmen are the representatives of the parliament. And the parliament could impeach the ministers. Thus, ministers take the ombudsman very seriously. That is the most powerful tool.

WHAT SHOULD THAI OMBUDSMEN LEARN FROM THE VOLKSANWALTSCHAFT?

In Austria, we ombudsmen have a television show, which is very popular. It addresses the problems people have with mal-administration and bring the parties in conflict – the citizens who are not satisfied with the administration’s work and the representatives from the administration side – to talk and the ombudsmen act as mediators to help resolve the issue.

I think Thailand should have a similar TV programme because it gives the ombudsman a lot of preventive power and has proven very effective in Austria.

IN ORDER to win the battle against corruption, the draft charter should be amended to provide more independence as well as checks and balance among administrative agencies, Pramon Sutivong, chairman of the Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand (ACT), said yesterday.

At the ACT-hosted seminar on the draft charter and anti-graft efforts, Pramon pointed out that authorities from national to local levels could be more connected to create a balance of power and transparency.

The draft should also allow anti-graft agencies to work more independently, he said, adding that agencies like the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) should not need Cabinet approval when making certain decisions.

Coordinating centres should also be set up to align the work among anti-graft agencies, such as the police, prosecutors and independent organisations so as to create more integrity, he said.

He also said that a procurement bill should be drafted so concrete rules can be set on procurement procedures, as this process currently relies on Cabinet approval.

With the charter’s 44 articles on graft, ranging from public support and controlling corruption in the administrative system to building clean politics and strengthening the justice system, he said the draft charter could “do better” by prioritising the citizens’ voices.

The chairman said that empowering the public would encourage public participation in national administration, leading to dynamic and rounded observation from people.

Chuchai Supawong, former vice chairman of the defunct Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC), said the draft charter should also include a court that specialises on finance and budget principles. The court should take quicker action against projects suspected of overusing the national budget, Chuchai said.

The draft should also declare that politicians reveal their tax records for three years, as stated in the previous draft created by the drafting panel led by Borwornsak Uwanno. He also suggested that the draft set up an anti-graft panel in the Parliament, the previous draft.

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