Some of the remnants of Thaksin Shinawatra's Thai Rak Thai Party may have made it a habit to make nonsensical utterances of late.
However, the most outspoken among them weren't too far off the mark when they complained loudly the other day that some of the prominent charter drafters are intent on writing a new constitution that is aimed at eliminating the "old power base".
Yes, "old political influences" have to be wiped clean if we are to embark on a new path of political reform. The old regime exploited the loopholes and flaws of the 1997 constitution, which had been considered one of the best. But even "the best" charter can fall victim to the whims of political autocrats who bend the rules using highly subtle techniques, thoroughly oiled with corrupt money and dark influences.
The mission of the 35-member Constitution Drafting Assembly (CDA) is therefore clear and simple: good ground rules and theoretical principles aren't sufficient - they have to be backed up by clear and effective organic laws that can plug every loophole.
Now that the next general election seems quite likely to be held in September 2007, every step on the way to this new political exercise will have to be thoroughly monitored. The CDA is in place. There is a 180-day deadline for the completion of the draft charter. The Election Commission's five members who met with Premier Surayud Chulanont last week said they were ready to hold the next round of ballot casting in September.
The five basic issues aren't all that complicated either.
First, should the number of members in the House of Representatives be reduced from 400 to 300 - and the number of elected senators cut from 200 to 100? Should the party-list system be abolished? Should the one-constituency-one-MP ballot be replaced by a multiple MP ballot?
There are also, connected to this issue, some seemingly minor points which could, in the context of Thai politics, become highly sensitive and significant, particularly the question of whether we should require candidates for the House of Representatives to have bachelor degrees.
And perhaps even more controversial: should MPs be required to have been registered as a member of a political party for at least 90 days before they are eligible to run in election? This may be a matter of little consequence in any other country's political system, but in Thailand's highly volatile political landscape, this particular clause could make or break a government.
The second major question is: should the Senate be kept in the political system? What purpose does it serve? If the Senate is still considered necessary, should senators be directly elected or indirectly chosen? Or should members of the upper house be selected through a more pragmatic and functional screening process?
Then, there is the question of how powerful senators should be after all? Should they retain the power to act as a check on the government, as stipulated in the 1997 constitution? Or should they serve only as "baby-sitters", helping only to screen draft laws?
The third issue, and one no less controversial, centres on how to strengthen the checks and balances against a powerful executive branch to avoid the nightmares created by the Thaksin regime. Should it be easier for MPs to submit no-confidence motions against the prime minister? Should, on the other hand, a two-term limit be imposed on the premiership to prevent the spectre of another "dictator in an electoral disguise" from returning?
The fourth question concerns the status of "independent agencies". They were supposed to serve as a positive influence against any possible abuse of power on the part of the country's chief executive. But under Thaksin, many of them were overshadowed, co-opted or sidelined.
How can the new constitution strengthen their roles through a more effective selection system? Which of these independent agencies should be retained? And which should be abolished?
The other major issue concerns the "people sector", especially clauses related to the protection of freedom of expression and how to ensure that such guarantees will not be violated through all kinds of political manipulation.
It's all very hip and convenient to simply say that it's the quality of politicians and not the charter's content that counts. But when all is said and done, what the highest law of the land says or doesn't say does lay the foundation for creating "quality" in our depressingly fickle political landscape.
Let's debate every proposed change - and plug every possible loophole against power abuse - so that posterity can't point its finger at this generation, accusing us of having put up with so much political nonsense - and leaving behind a messy legacy.
You can't write a charter that will make the September 19 military takeover the last coup this country sees, of course.
Neither can you draw up a constitution that will seal the future emergence of another Thaksin.
But you certainly can work out a political document that will make it very, very risky and shameful indeed to use the constitution as an "excuse" to do any further damage to the country's long-term interests.
In other words, the drafters' mission is to come up with a constitution that can peacefully and effectively throw out corrupt rulers without giving an ambitious military leader the excuse to come in to "save" the country.
We need a clear and democratic set of ground rules that will enable us to save ourselves from any self-appointed saviours.
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