Officials Defend Carte Blanche For Junta In New Charter

Prof. Pornpetch Wichiatcholchai (right) at a press conference discussing Thailand's new interim charter, 23 July 2014.

BANGKOK — A legal adviser to Thailand's military regime says the sweeping powers granted to the junta under the new charter are necessary to maintain order and unity in the country.

Prof. Pornpetch Wichiatcholchai, adviser to the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), said in a press conference today that NCPO chairman Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha should reserve the power to suppress or prevent any activity that threatens national security or the monarchy.  

The official was referring to Article 44 of the newly inaugurated 2014 Interim Constitution, which allows the head of the NCPO "to order, to suspend or to take action, regardless of its effects on the legislative, executive or judiciary" in response to any perceived threats against "public order, national security, the monarchy, national economy or sovereignty of the country."

According to the article: “All orders or acts are to be regarded as lawful and constitutional. At the conclusion of that order or act, the speaker of the National Legislative Assembly and the Prime Minister are to be notified as soon as possible.”

The section effectively permits the NCPO to reserve absolute power over the new government and unilaterally continue its suppression of dissent in the name of public order and national security.

However, Mr. Pornpetch defended the provision, saying "it is not a harsh law." 

"It's for the creation of peace and order, and a political atmosphere that will lead to reforms," Mr. Pornpetch explained. 

He admited that Article 44 resembles the infamous Section 17 of the Thai 1959 Charter imposed by Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat, following his military takeover.

That article granted Sarit as Prime Minister the power to "to prevent or suppress an act giving rise to the subversion of the national security of Throne or an act contributable to the impairment, disturbance or threat against the internal or external peace of the Kingdom … Such order or act shall be deemed lawful." 

Field Marshal Sarit regularly invoked Section 17 to crack down on activists and suspected Communists during his tenure as Prime Minister.

"Article 44 is like Section 17 in the past," Mr. Pornpetch said. "But it will be used in a constructive way, not a destructive one."

NCPO Advisor Wissanu Kru-ngam, who was also present at today's press conference, insisted that Article 44 does not grant the NCPO inordinate powers. 

"It merely allows the NCPO to stay and ease the burden of the Cabinet in issues about national security, and peace and order, so that the Cabinet can focus on administrative works and not be distracted by complicating problems over the period of the the next year," Mr. Wissanu said. "I believe the NCPO will rarely use this power."

The 2014 Interim Constitution — the 19th charter in Thailand's history as a constitutional monarchy — outlines the formation of an interim government that will administer the country until elections are held, scheduled for October 2015 at the earliest.

 The temporary government will consist of a National Legislative Assembly who will appoint a Prime Minister and Cabinet, a National Reform Council tasked with proposing widespread national reforms, and a Constitutional Drafting Committee in charge of penning a permanent charter.

 

CORRECTION: The new interim charter is Thailand's 19th, not 18th, constitution since 1932.

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