BANGKOK — The Thai junta's national reform body has approved the first draft of a bill that would create a National Assembly of Morality tasked with investigating the "ethical behavior" of politicians.
The National Reform Council (NRC) voted 217 to 10 in favor of the plan yesterday. Six NRC members abstained. In addition to drafting plans for national reforms, the NRC is able to submit legislation proposals to the junta's lawmaker body, the National Legislative Assembly.
According to the draft of the bill, the National Assembly of Morality will set a code of ethical standards for Cabinet members, MPs, Senators, and other state officials. Private organizations contracted by the state will also fall under the jurisdiction of the Assembly.
If any official appears to violate the Assembly's code of conduct, the offender will be investigated. The Assembly will then issue a verdict made available to the public.
Although the National Assembly of Morality will not have the authority to punish wrongdoers on its own, it will be able to submit the names of “transgressing” Cabinet members, MPs, and Senators to the Election Commission for black-listing, said NRC deputy chairman Bowornsak Uwanno.
Other offenders who are not "high-ranking holders of political office" will face disciplinary action by their commanding agencies, Bowornsak said.
According to the draft approved yesterday, an eleven-member panel including the Prime Minister, opposition leader, House Speaker, judges, NGO leaders, and "representatives of the private sector" will select the five-member National Council of Morality, who will then select 55 individuals to serve in the National Assembly of Morality.
Prior to the vote yesterday, Pondej Pinprateep, the chairman of the NRC’s committee on "moral reform," told other NRC members that the National Assembly of Morality will "promote good people to rule the country, and prevent bad people from having power and causing trouble."
"This organization will be an independent agency in accordance with the constitution," Pondej said. "It will work to set a standard of ethics and morality for holders of political office."
The draft of the bill will be sent to a sub-committee before it goes to the junta's legislative body next week.
The ruling military junta, which seized power from an elected government in May 2014, has made rooting out corruption a top priority of its national reform effort.
However, critics say the crusade against corruption is a façade for the junta’s true goals: restricting the power of political parties allied to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, which have won every national election since 2001.
The constitution drafters, who were appointed by the junta, have already announced that the new Senate will be fully-appointed, and that Prime Ministers will not be required to be an elected MP.
Worachai Hema, a former MP from the Redshirt-allied Pheu Thai Party, called the moral assembly proposal a "trap" by the elite to hamstring democratically-elected governments in the future.
"If there is problem or conflict in the future, a coup will no longer be a viable method, because it will be opposed by the world community. So, they are setting up the Moral Assembly instead," Worachai said. "It fits with having an outside Prime Minister who doesn't have to come from a political party, and unelected Senators. Everything has been placed to maintain the power of the current group, and will be used as a trap to deal with the government that comes from an election."
Thaksin, the de facto leader of the Pheu Thai Party, was ousted in a military coup in 2006 and convicted of corruption in absentia in 2008. Although he has been living in a self-imposed exile ever since, Thaksin has remained immensely popular among supporters in Thailand's rural provinces, known as the Redshirts, who have repeatedly elected his allies into power. The government toppled in the 22 May 2014 coup was led by Thaksin’s sister, former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
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