Back to the future

By Veera Prateepchaikul, Bangkok Post

The beating of war drums has started. Pretty soon we bystanders will witness a rerun of the same old political script about the chain of troubling events that led to the 2006 coup.

At stake is the People Power party's draft constitution amendment, which is tentatively scheduled for debate in Parliament next month.

On the surface, it looks as if the PPP and its arch-enemy, the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) led by media tycoon Sondhi Limthongkul, are fighting over the charter issue. If this is the case, then we should not be overly worried.

But the trouble is that other more sensitive issues, such as PM's Office Minister Jakrapob Penkair's controversial speech deemed as challenging the monarchy, may be dragged into the fray, which would push the already heated atmosphere to boiling point. Unless, of course, Jakrapob steps aside first and distances himself from any activities of the pro-Thaksin followers, who are likely to be mobilised to counter the PAD protests.

Sadly, though, the firebrand minister does not feel any sense of guilt and remains fiercely defiant, unapologetic and unrepentant. He is due to clarify himself before the media today. And, in the meantime, he has instructed the National Broadcasting Service of Thailand (formerly Channel 11) of the Public Relations Department to broadcast footage of the activities of the Royal Family and royally-sponsored projects, to demonstrate his loyalty to the country's highest institution.

Poor Jakrapob! What is on his mind? Does he think his audience is foolish enough to believe that by having such footage rerun on state TV as recommended by one of his staff he will be seen as being loyal to the monarchy? Rather than interfere in the affairs of the NBT - thereby giving the opposition new ammunition to push for his impeachment - he should have done the simplest and most appropriate thing: make a formal apology for what he has done, whether it was done out of naivety or not. But Jakrapob appears to have such a big ego which prevents him from admitting his inadvertent error and saying sorry. In which case, it may serve him right should he meet his certain political demise, sooner rather than later; for the PPP and the government stand to lose the longer Jakrapob is allowed to stay on.

As for the military, the generals are far more concerned about the monarchy issue than with the constitutional amendment bid. More importantly, they have sent a clear signal of their dissatisfaction about Jakrapob's speech.

The government's proposed national referendum to seek the public's opinion about whether they want the existing charter to be amended or not before Parliament is to begin deliberating the draft amendment charter - although seen by some critics as a political ploy and opposed by the Democrats and the PAD - should be welcomed, if it is done in a fair manner and at an appropriate time.

And instead of simply a "yes" or "no" for charter amendment to be ticked on the referendum ballot, another set of "yes" or "no" for a new charter to be written by an assembly of writers with public participation should be added to the ballot.

Also, the 45-day timetable set by the government is too short an advance notice for the Election Commission to do a good job. The period should be extended to allow more breathing space for the EC. Since the writing of the new charter draft was done in haste by the PPP, this process should not be repeated for the referendum.

Such a referendum would help ease political tension and could put off a confrontation between PAD and the PPP and its supporters, at least for the time being, until the completion of the referendum. Hence, the two-billion-baht price tag for holding such a referendum would be money well spent, even though it is indeed a huge sum.

Since both the PPP and PAD claim that they represent the people and are doing whatever it is that they are doing for the "good of the people", why not let the people themselves decide whether they want the current charter or a new one? And if they want a new one, why not let them decide whether they want to have a role in its writing, instead of just letting the politicians do it?

Veera Prateepchaikul is Deputy Editor-in-Chief, Post Publishing Plc.