Thai Protesters Rally as Parliament Debates Charter Changes
(Bloomberg) -- Thai riot police sprayed water cannons at pro-democracy activists rallying near the parliament as lawmakers began a debate on a roadmap for amending the nation’s constitution.
Hundreds of protesters, with some donning helmets and masks, tried to breach concrete barricades and barbed wire at an intersection outside the parliament building in central Bangkok, prompting the police to fire water cannons to disperse the crowd. The protesters in turn threw smoke bombs at the police, local media reported.
The lawmakers began discussions on the constitution amendment on Tuesday, with a vote on the pathway to any changes expected by Wednesday. The parliament restarted a stalled process that’s aimed at meeting one of the key demands of the protesters, who are seeking a fresh election under a new constitution.
Anti-government protests have swept Thailand since July with activists breaking long-held taboos about publicly criticizing the royal family and questioning laws that stifle discussion of the monarchy. Their demands also include the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha. While the youth-led demonstrations have been largely peaceful, they threaten to derail an economic recovery in the tourism- and trade-reliant nation.
READ: Why Protesters Are Back on the Streets in Thailand
Thailand’s current charter has been the point of contention since its inception after Prayuth took power in a 2014 coup. Protesters and critics viewed it as instrumental in helping the royalist establishment retain its grip on power with Prayuth returning as the leader after the 2019 elections. The charter allows the military-appointed Senate, whose powers demonstrators want scrapped, to vote for the premier.
A panel appointed by the parliament to study the charter amendments submitted a report to the lawmakers on Tuesday.
If the parliament ends up supporting a pathway to create a charter rewriting committee, the process of establishing a panel alone could take three to six months, according to Punchada Sirivunnabood, an associate professor of politics at Mahidol University near Bangkok. Such a panel without representatives from the protest movement may not help resolve any issues, she said.
“What we would likely see at the end of the process is the establishment still keeping the structure that helps them keep the power,” Punchada said. “There might be changes in election laws and Senate power, but those changes would still facilitate the establishment-backed party in the elections. There won’t be any changes to laws related to the monarchy.”
Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri said on Monday the protesters’ demands should be addressed by the parliamentary process, and the government is willing to listen to all suggestions that could help Thailand move past the current economic crisis.
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The pro-democracy groups want the lawmakers to vote for amending the charter and “bringing the monarchy back under the constitution,” Free Youth, one of the protest groups said on Facebook. Earlier on Tuesday, hundreds of members of a pro-royalist group called Thai Pakdee, rallied outside the parliament against changing the constitution and any dilution of monarchy powers.
The parliament vote could be the beginning of a process that’s expected to take about a year or longer, and include a referendum.
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