Thai court rules charter change illegal but does not dissolve ruling Puea Thai party

The Thai government averted a political crisis on Wednesday, when the country’s Constitutional Court ruled that its plans to amend the charter were illegal but stopped short of ordering the dissolution of the ruling Puea Thai party.

The current constitution was drawn up by an interim administration after then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra was unseated by a coup in 2006. In September this year, Peau Thai legislators passed a Bill that would amend the charter by changing the structure of the Senate. Instead of a 150-member body, out of which about half are appointed, it will create a 200-member Upper House which is fully elected.

Opponents of the change argue that it would put too much power in the hands of Puea Thai’s political machinery, which already dominates the Lower House. Thaksin’s sister Yingluck Shinawatra is the current prime minister. Those in favour of the charter amendment, however, say it would help pare down the power of Thailand’s old elites and give more say to the electorate.

On Wednesday afternoon, the court said the charter amendment violated regulations. It pointed out, for example, that some lawmakers had voted by proxy, while having members of both upper and lower house come from election would erode the checks and balances in the political system.

However, it dropped a request by the opposition to dissolve parties in the ruling coalition.

The mood in the capital was tense on Wednesday as both anti-government protesters as well as pro-government “red shirt” supporters were gathered in different sections of Bangkok to await the verdict.

Just two weeks ago, Puea Thai was forced to retreat on a contentious amnesty plan that would allow Thaksin – who lives in self-exile overseas to avoid a jail term for corruption – to return a free man as well as reclaim more than US$1 billion (S$1.24 billion) in seized assets.

The Bill, which was passed by the Lower House on the wee hours of Nov 1, drew thousands onto the streets in protest. While the Senate later rejected the Bill, and Puea Thai promised not to revive it, the protesters have turned their attention to ousting the government instead.

That, in turn, drew a strong response from Puea Thai’s red shirt supporters. On Tuesday night, tens of thousands turned up in Bangkok’s Rajamangala Stadium to bolster the government’s position, stoking fears of a confrontation between the two camps.

tanhy@sph.com.sg