Thai Parliament Stalls Charter Decision, Angering Protesters

Thai lawmakers delayed a vote on various proposals to set a pathway to amend the constitution, further angering anti-government demonstrators calling for more democracy and reform of the monarchy.

The parliament instead overwhelmingly backed a new proposal to set up a panel that would vet the six plans submitted earlier for changing the charter written by a military-appointed panel after a 2014 coup. The vote, mostly supported by royalist allies of the army, means the process to start rewriting the constitution will be pushed back by at least one month. Opposition parties said they won’t join the new committee.

Hundreds of agitated demonstrators, who had gathered outside the parliament, tried to stop vehicles of some Senators and lawmakers leaving the house after the decision. The protesters have been hitting the streets since July to demand changes that include scrapping the military-appointed Senate -- which played a key role in the return of coup leader Prayuth Chan-Ocha as prime minister after the election last year -- and reining in the power of King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

“It’s part of their tactics to delay the process because they want to hold on to their power,” Punchada Sirivunnabood, an associate professor of politics at Mahidol University near Bangkok. “The protest movement will likely escalate from this point, with more people including the opposition parties joining the movement.”

Opposition Disappointed

Opposition parties said they were disappointed by parliament’s decision. Sompong Amornvivat, a leader of the Pheu Thai party, said the government “doesn’t sincerely want the changes that people want.” Pita Limjaroenrat, leader of Move Forward, the second largest opposition party, said “there’s still hope for charter amendment.”

The process of rewriting a constitution, expected to take about a year and involve a referendum, will ultimately require the king’s endorsement. The current military-backed constitution, Thailand’s 20th since absolute monarchy ended in 1932, made it easy for Prayuth and his allies to keep power after an election last year that ended five years of rule by a junta.

The king hasn’t publicly addressed the protests, and Prayuth said on Friday that people need to respect different views as lawmakers too were divided on the issue of charter changes and the decision didn’t make him better or worse. A month’s delay is in line with the law, he said.

The growing protest movement is an additional challenge for Prayuth’s year-old administration, which is trying to revive Thailand’s trade-and-tourism-reliant economy with foreign investors fleeing from its stocks and bonds. Overseas investors have net sold more than $10 billion of Thai stocks and bonds so far this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Monarchy Reform

The protesters have busted long-held taboos in Thailand about publicly criticizing the monarchy. One of the protest group called the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration has called on Prayuth to resign and issued a 10-point demand to reform the monarchy, including revoking strict laws criminalizing insults against top members of the royal family.

The Thammasat group has also called for a general strike on Oct. 14. They urged supporters to show solidarity by not standing during the royal anthem and have called for a boycott of Siam Commercial Bank Pcl, in which the king is the biggest shareholder.

Arnon Nampa, a lawyer and one of the prominent leaders of the protest movement, on Thursday questioned the need to set up a committee to study proposals for charter amendment after a two-day debate. He said it’s “disrespectful” to the people and vowed to strengthen the protests.

Prayuth appealed for unity and cooperation in resolving the issues facing Thailand, saying protests will impact the nation’s economy and potentially trigger a second wave of virus infections.

“I’m not threatening as it has happened in many countries,” Prayuth said. “Some nations had to go into lockdowns. Do we want that? This is more dangerous than other things.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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