Thai Constitution Drafters Pave Way For Unelected PM

Junta leader and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha speaking at Government House on 25 December 2014. Critics of the 2014 coup fear Gen. Prayuth will not relinquish power to the new elected government.

BANGKOK – Thailand's junta-appointed Constitutional Drafting Committee (CDC) has announced that the new charter will not require the Prime Minister to be an elected member of parliament.

"We will not require the PM to be an MP or a member of any political party," said CDC spokesperson Kamnoon Sidhisaman yesterday, "Because we want to pave a way for an outsider PM in case of political crises, like the previous ones that we have seen."

However, Kamnoon said it is hard to imagine that an "outsider" will ever be appointed as Prime Minister, because parliament will still have the authority to decide on who will become the PM.

"It's natural and logical that Prime Ministers will likely be one of the MPs," Kamnoon said.

Thailand's previous constitutions in recent decades have required that the PM be an elected MP.

In contrast, Thailand's current temporary constitution, which came into effect after the military seized power on 22 May 2014, allows non-elected individuals to take the premiership, and explicitly disqualifies members of any political party from the job. 

Coup leader and then-army chief Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha was unanimously appointed Prime Minister by the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) in August. Critics of the 2014 coup fear that Gen. Prayuth will not relinquish his near-absolute power to the next elected government. 

When a reporter asked Kamnoon whether the abolition of the MP-requirement in the next charter is a channel for Gen. Prayuth or the junta to perpetuate their grip on Thailand, the CDC spokesperson insisted that "the CDC is not writing the law to help anyone or any group."

"We will listen to criticism from every group in the public," Kamnoon said, "However, let me stress that in practice it is hard for outsiders to become Prime Ministers, because the party that wins the most number of seats in parliament will appoint their own MP [as PM]."

Speaking at a public forum today, Bowornsak Uwanno, chairman of the CDC, defended the idea of an unelected PM on the grounds that having an "outsider Prime Minister" will make it easier to solve political crises in Thailand. 

He claimed that the latest round of conflict in Thailand escalated precisely because of the parliament's inability to replace then-Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra with a new head of government. 

"The crisis that led to the coup on 22 May took place because the constitution was too strict," said Bowornsak, who is widely regarded as the "academic leader" of the conservative force that protested against Ms. Yingluck. "It closed the door when the crisis arose. Therefore, the government could not administer the country, and they could not find anyone to become a Prime Minister."

Bowornsak also told reporters that the CDC has no "hidden agenda" in its plan to pave the way for an outsider PM. The committee merely intends to bring balance between "Thai society and globalisation," Bowornsak said.

"Of all 193 countries around the world, only 26 countries explicitly require PMs to come from the MPs. The rest do not have such a restriction," Bowornsak said. 

The CDC has been tasked by the military junta to produce a new charter – Thailand's 19th since democracy was established  78 years ago – by 2015. The junta has promised that a new election will take place after the charter and "national reforms" are completed. 

Critics of the 22 May have warned that the new constitution, drafted under the watch of the ruling military junta, will be less democratic in nature than previous charters. 

Siriwan Noksuan Sawasdee, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, said the CDC is attempting to turn the clock back to the "half-leaf democracy era" of 1980s, when MPs were elected but PMs were separately appointed. 

"It reflects that the Thai elite are not ready to adapt themselves for a full-leaf democracy society," Siriwan told Khaosod yesterday. "Whether this proposal will actually be enforced depends on reaction from  people in the society. If there is no reaction, this proposal will be pushed into reality."

 

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