Anyone can become PM in Thailand, if the new charter says so

Anyone can become PM in Thailand, if the new charter says so
Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.

There is no avoiding the deeply rooted suspicion that the Constitution drafters who pushed through Article 174 were paving the way for the coup-makers to continue to hold political power even after a new election is held.

Why? The clause is basically quite simple, but understandably explosive and inherently controversial. It states that the next prime minister doesn't have to be an elected member of Parliament. Period.

As expected, the news was greeted with an avalanche of criticism from many quarters, particularly the political circles awaiting the new elections, where they hope to vie for power once again.

The arguments on both sides follow more or less the normal lines: Those against say the proposal represents a major setback for democratic reforms. Those in favour claim that history has delivered the painful lesson that if an "outsider" cannot be brought in to lead the government in a crisis, a prolonged deadlock - as has happened more than once in the recent past - could undermine the country's stability.

Obviously, the members of the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) chaired by Bavornsak Uwanno who voted for the inclusion of this clause were sending the message that even if the country returns to an electoral democracy, the negative attitude towards politicians would remain strong.

The general tone in the new draft of the charter is one of distrust towards politicians. There is no doubt about that. It is equally clear that a good segment of the Thai public shares that cynicism. The most frequently asked question these days in any political discourse is: Will we return to the political turbulence of the recent past once elections are held again?

The Constitution writers say they are trying to prevent a recurrence of such chaos by adding clauses in the new charter that will plug past loopholes. Most politicians and a good number of academics have hit back with a valid riposte: Members of the CDC have been handpicked by the coup-makers. Therefore, they can't claim to represent the interests of the people. Any new Constitution must be drawn up by bodies elected by the people in a general election.

But the counter-argument is that if the highest law of the land isn't serious about weeding out dirty politics and vote-buying, how can a flawed electoral system produce a group of elected MPs who can really write a genuinely democratic, sustainable and transparent Constitution?

Here lies the Catch-22.

There is no shortage of "revolutionary" and "visionary" proposals for ways to make the new Constitution absolutely democratic, of course.

What about allowing the Thai people to vote directly for the new prime minister? Wouldn't that be truly democratic, since every voter would have a say in who should be the next PM.

This idea, no less controversial than the "non-MP PM" submitted by Sombat Thamrongthanyawong, head of the Political Reform Committee, was a topic of a hot debate for a few weeks before it was shot down and promptly buried.

Will the new concept of opening the way for anyone to be prime minister survive the ongoing tussle?

The current odds are 50-50. But the debate will be fun and educational while it lasts. The CDC spokesman has already paved the path for a graceful retreat: "This is just a draft. We will have to listen to the views of the National Legislative Assembly, the National Reform Council, the National Peace and Order Council, the government and the people before we come to any conclusion."

In other words, nothing is set in stone but what's the point of having a constitution drafting committee in this "special circumstance" amid the call for "reform" if the members don't have the courage to come up with controversial, unconventional and perhaps unpopular ideas?

Once this uproar dies down, the next hot issue we will face is: Will a political party be formed to accommodate the coup-makers after the new Constitution is promulgated and a new election is held?

If you listen carefully, you can hear the noisy exchange on both sides just around the corner.

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