Bangkok (The Nation/ANN) - Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra made it clear yesterday that the Pheu Thai-led government would push for overhauling the Constitution if the proposal for rewriting the whole charter fails to draw a 50-per-cent turnout in a public referendum.
In fact, if we fail to reach the mid-way mark [for turnout], the government will turn back to amend the Constitution article by article," she said.
Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung has warned that less than the required half of all eligible voters might show up for the plebiscite.
Yingluck said that would not mean the government's effort was doomed, as holding a referendum was not her administration's idea but the suggestion of the Constitution Court.
According to the Constitution, a referendum can be passed if half of all eligible voters turn out to cast ballots, and a majority of that turnout then votes in favour.
In July, the court ruled in a case against proponents of constitutional amendment that it was against the charter to write a new constitution, as the current one was endorsed by the majority of voters in a public referendum.
The court also said that the 2007 Constitution in fact allows amendment by article.
Yingluck said that due to the court order, the government could not proceed with charter amendment.
The third reading of the charter change bill in Parliament was suspended following the court ruling.
Some Pheu Thai politicians want the government to go ahead with passing the bill, while others say the court ruling regarding the referendum must be followed first.
This was just a matter of different viewpoints within the ruling party rather than a dispute, she said.
Critics and opposition politicians have condemned the move to write an entirely new constitution, saying it was aimed at whitewashing former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra so that he could return home a free man.
Yingluck's brother, who fled overseas to escape imprisonment at home from a corruption case brought against him after the coup of 2006, is believed to be pulling the strings behind the ruling party.
However, Yingluck dismissed any innuendoes of favouritism.
"The constitutional amendment is intended for the people. We want to have a people's charter - one that is in line with democracy," she said.
The government's working group on constitutional amendment would tell the public what they would get from drafting a new version, she said.
Democrat Party spokesman Chavanont Intarakomalyasut said the government's real intention was to scrap Article 309 of the Constitution to void the legal impacts of the post-coup Interim Constitution of 2006, under which the Assets Examination Committee investigated Thaksin and his Cabinet.
The government should state if it would retain that article and it should publicly outline how a completely new charter would be better for the public than the current one, the spokeman said.
Senator Prasarn Marukapitak said he believes Thaksin was behind the move to draft a new constitution, but the government was likely to lose in the referendum.
Kanin Boonsuwan, an academic and former constitution drafter, called on all sides to follow the Constitution.
"If they try to get out of the Constitution's framework, the dispute will get bigger and it will be more difficult to find a solution," he said.
Pheu Thai MP Weng Tojirakarn, who is also a red-shirt leader, said the government should move for the third reading on charter changes.
Weng said writing a brand new constitution was out of the picture, as it would not achieve the
minimum support required in the referendum.
Election Commission member Sodsri Satayathum, who is in charge of political party affairs and referendums, said it would be against the law for the government or state agencies to provide voters with free transportation to the referendum polling stations.
Some government politicians had floated the idea in the hope that at least half of the estimated 48 million eligible voters would cast a ballot in the plebiscite.
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