Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Restore sense of direction


Restore sense of direction

In its stuttering steps to amend or rewrite the constitution, the government has only managed to obfuscate instead of educate. Does anyone remember what Article 63 does and why it needs to be rewritten? How about Article 237, or Article 390? The importance of replacing these and other sections of last year's constitution has ebbed and waned on the political tide. By putting artificial importance on one section at a time, the government has lost the plot.

The good news, though, is that it is not yet too late to recover. The reshuffled Samak administration and the 114-day attempt to heal the divisions in society provide, literally, a one-time opportunity to get the government, democracy and society itself back on track. Between the auspicious dates of Aug 12 and Dec 5, the nation should focus on healing. Certainly there are many problems in the country and many faults in the government. But nothing will be solved unless the nation pulls together to work on the solutions.

Consider the constitution. Written under military direction, enacted by voters while voting for it, the supreme law has almost no backers. A forthright approach to amend or _ better _ to rewrite the charter is widely supported. Yet the Samak Sundaravej government and ruling People Power party have repeatedly selected inconvenient articles and sections to change in what all citizens realise is a cynical and self-serving process. At no time has the parliamentary majority suggested changing or rewriting the constitution for the country. At every stage, constitutional change has clearly been exclusively to save the skins of politicians.

The same is true of the most recent panic by the ruling party. The misguided, arguably illegal proposal to amend Article 63 of the 2007 Constitution was simply an attempt to change national law in response to a single event. The PPP obviously felt threatened by the Bangkok and upcountry protests by the People's Alliance for Democracy. Once again, this was no carefully considered attempt to change the charter to help the country. On the contrary. Any constitutional restriction on freedom of speech and assembly should, and must, be rejected. Local traffic and nuisance laws can deal with issues such as noise and blocking commerce.

The government must take primary responsibility for the current lack of national unity. A major campaign promise by Prime Minister Samak was national reconciliation. Since he took over the reins of government last February, he and the party he at least nominally heads have stumbled from political setback to self-inflicted crisis. But neither the legal nor street-based opposition deserve credit in this regard. The main feature of PAD demonstrations has been loud, often vulgarly obnoxious demands for the government to get out.

The Democrats in parliament have been almost equally and lamentably short of positive suggestions that would be helpful to a renewal of national unity.

Many commentators believe political division has gone ''too far'' in recent years. That is too pessimistic. Thai unity is shaken but not broken.

The government can _ must _ exert leadership in the next 114 days. It has the primary responsibility to propose a constitutional convention to write a charter, with the help of the opposition and all citizens. It has the duty to be accountable for its political programmes and spending.

It has the obligation to provide an atmosphere where all Thais of all political beliefs can participate in helping the country, together.

Wednesday August 13, 2008
Bangkok Post
General News

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