Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - House Speaker Somsak Kiartsuranont yesterday advised the Thai government not to hold a public referendum on whether a new constitution should be written, saying such a vote would cost over 2 billion baht (US$63 million).
He suggested that MPs and senators propose new bills for changes to certain articles of the charter instead.
"In order to avoid spending so much money, the constitutional amendment should be done by article, and the original amendment bill should be dropped," said Somsak, who is the Parliament president ex-officio and also an MP from the ruling Pheu Thai Party.
"I am for the way that goes with the country's interest. I don't want Thais to kill each other. But it depends on the parliamentarians if they will agree with me," he said, adding that members of parliament would vote whether to drop the amendment bill or approve it in a final reading.
MPs were about to vote on the government-proposed amendment bill in a final reading in early June when the Constitution Court agreed to conduct a judicial review of the bill. It received petitions that accused the government of trying to overthrow the country's democratic regime with the King as head of state by proposing changes that would allow writing of a new constitution.
The court rejected the petitions last Friday, saying there was insufficient proof to support such claims. But it also said that writing a new constitution could not be done without first consulting the people, as the current post-coup Constitution was approved by a majority of the population in a referendum.
Deputy House Speaker Charoen Jankomol yesterday also voiced opposition to holding a popular vote on constitutional amendment, saying that it would cost billions of baht in taxpayers' money. He said that while he believed MPs and Senators could go ahead with a vote in the final reading, it would be better for Parliament to try to settle differences first in order to avoid more problems in the future.
"I believe people will petition the Constitution Court again" if Parliament goes ahead with a vote in the final reading of the amendment bill, he said.
Meanwhile, the opposition Democrat Party's spokesman, Chavanond Intarakomalyasut, challenged Pheu Thai yesterday to hold a referendum if they are confident of having popular support.
He said a decision by the public would help end disagreement over the matter. The Constitution Court's verdict had helped ease conflict in Thai society, he said, and Pheu Thai could help things more by following the court's suggestion to hold a referendum.
"If Pheu Thai is confident it has support from 15 million voters and if they are sure those people want this post-coup Constitution replaced, they have nothing to fear," the spokesman said.
Chavanond said the opposition would campaign against writing a new constitution. "Let the people decide. The party will accept the public's decision," he said.
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said yesterday the government would wait for advice about the verdict from the Council of State, the state legal advisory agency. She expected to hear that at the Cabinet meeting today.
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