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Politics

Thailand's new constitution in nation's 'best interest': drafting committee chief

Constitution Drafting Committee chief Meechai Ruchupan

BANGKOK -- The head of Thailand's Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC), Meechai Ruchupan, said the proposed charter was written with the people's "best interest" in mind and that foreign critics should concern themselves with problems in their own countries.

     Unveiled Tuesday, the final draft calls for an unelected senate appointed by the current ruling junta.

     Excerpts from a news conference with Meechai follow.

Q: What is your idea of democracy?

A: We take Buddhadasa Bhikku's principle, who was a famous monk in Thailand, "Democracy does not mean that the power must be for the people, but should be in the best interest of the people." Therefore we consider the best interest of the people as our main priority in writing this constitution.

Q: Can you explain the choice of an appointed senate? Why was the National Council for Peace and Order's proposal included in the final draft?

A:  Because of the reasoning that the NCPO provided to us:                                                                                                                                

     1) That the peace and order that the NCPO has been determined to achieve are still not quite there yet.

     2) That the reform promised to the citizens is still not complete.

     We want the reform to be still supervised during a transition, and such authority will be for the interest of the country as a whole. The senators will have the authority to help push the process. If the reforms could be in place as stated in the constitution, the CDC believes that the country will advance at a rapid pace with more peace and happiness as society wants.

Q: Won't it be possible to have an unelected prime minister?

A: It's not likely. Because this system is new, there could be unseen complications that cause obstacles in forming a government, potentially leading to a dead end. Therefore, we state that as an option. However, such an option will be an exceptional case.

     At the end of the day, the authority still falls to the lower house. It's up to those members to proceed. I would like to repeat and insist that the joint meeting between senators and lower house members is not where the selection of the new prime minister will take place. This option can be exercised only if the lower house requests to do so, and once approved by the voting in the joint meeting, it will be the lower house's authority to name the prime minister.

Q: Do you consider the draft charter to be democratic? What do you say to criticism from the international community?

A: There are many countries around the world which also have the appointed senator system. Foreigners now have a lot to worry about in their own countries.

Q: How does this draft compare with the constitution of 1997, which is regarded as the most democratic in Thailand's history, or the 2007 charter that was scrapped after the 2014 coup?

A: This constitution will give more rights to people. The previous one, for example, gave people the right to drink water, but this constitution says that the state has a duty to give people water.

    The electoral system will also be better because every vote will be taken into account.

     The number of independent agencies will not increase under this constitution, but there will be stricter qualifications for the officials, such as never being in jail, not being accused of corruption and requiring them to resign or be sacked if they commit any misdeeds while in office.

Q: With all the concerns about the draft, including the possibility of an unelected prime minister or involvement by the military, how do you see the outlook for the referendum?

A: If you all can help create a proper understanding, it would dissolve such concerns regarding the matter.

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