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Thailand: Court Rules on Draft Constitutional Amendment

(Aug. 7, 2012) Thailand's ruling Phuea Thai party has for the moment withdrawn plans to amend the nation's Constitution, in part due to a court decision. In late July 2012, Thailand's Constitutional Court ruled on five complaints that had been lodged over the proposed amendment. The revision, which would have affected section 291 of the Constitution, had been proposed by Phuea Thai, which also advocated legislation on political reconciliation. (Chamlong Dokpik, Phuea Thai to Halt Reconciliation Bills, Hold Referendum on Charter Rewrite, MATICHON (Aug. 3, 2012), World News Connection online subscription database, Doc. No. 201208031477.1_d43800a2273156c0.)

Section 291 of the Constitution describes the amendment procedures. These include proposal by the Council of Ministers, by one-fifth of the members of the House of Representatives, by one-fifth of the members of both legislative Houses, or by 50,000 members of the public with the right to vote. After proposal, an amendment is considered three times in the legislature and must be passed by a majority in both Houses before being sent on to the King for final approval. (Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand, B.E. 2550 (Aug. 24, 2007), ASIAN LII.)

As first released on July 13, the Court's ruling stated:

The current Constitution had been approved by the people in a public referendum. Therefore, the people who have the power to establish a constitution should have a chance to vote in a public referendum first, whether they want a new constitution. However, it is also appropriate if Parliament exercises its authority to amend certain sections of the Constitution. Parliament also has the authority to do so. It is in line with the purpose of Section 291 of the Constitution. (Dokpik, supra.)

The background issue was the desire of the Phuea Thai party to rewrite the entire Constitution, rather than amending it article by article. Chusak Sirinil, a legal advisor for the ruling party, noted that four of the eight judges had thought that under section 291 the Court had no role in determining how the legislature revised the Constitution, while the other four argued that the Court did have such an interpretative role. (Panel to Study Verdict on Charter Change, THE NATION (Aug. 3, 2012).)

Observers outside the party had considered the move to amend the Constitution and the reconciliation proposal as politically motivated. The reconciliation legislation would have provided amnesty for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the brother of the current Prime Minister. (Daniel Ten Kate & Suttinee Yuvejwattanam, Thai Ruling Party Shelves Amnesty Bills, Constitutional Changes, Bloomberg (July 31, 2012).) Thaksin Shiawatra was ousted in a September 2006 coup, following accusations of abuse of power and corruption; the current Constitution was adopted the next year. (Profile: Thaksin Shinawatra, BBC NEWS (June 24, 2011).)

Prompong Nopparit, a spokesman for Phuea Thai, in discussing the party's decision to postpone promotion of both the reconciliation legislation and the constitutional amendment, stated that “there are still misunderstandings and disagreements over this issue. … It spoils the mood and attempt for reconciliation. So, we will leave it as it is for now.” (Id.) The party now intends to have a public referendum on revising the Constitution. (Dokpik, supra.)