At least 30 members of the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) have agreed to petition the Constitutional Court on Monday to ask it to consider the constitutionality of the organic bill on senators.
NLA president, Pornpetch Wichitcholchai, said he is confident that the move will not affect the roadmap which Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has said will lead to an election in February of next year as the court is likely to take only one month to consider the bill.
Only one organic bill is to be forwarded to the court on Monday despite the fact that the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) asked the NLA to forward two bills, including the one on the election of MPs, said Mr Pornpetch.
The bill on the election of MPs will be submitted for royal endorsement as planned.
Deputy Democrat party leader Nipit Intarasonbat, however, has said it is possible that the election could be delayed depending on the court’s ruling.
“If the court rules that some parts of the bill are unconstitutional, it may have to be rewritten, resulting in the possible postponement of the election,” he said.
Election Commissioner Somchai Srisutthiyakorn said the submission of the bill to the Constitutional Court could push back the election by six months if the court rules that substantial parts of it are unconstitutional.
But NLA whip Somchai Sawaengkarn said yesterday the Constitutional Court is expected to spend no more than three months on the petition.
This will not affect the election roadmap as the NLA previously voted for the bill to become effective 90 days after its announcement in the Royal Gazette, he said, instead of right away and the 90-day extension has been factored into the roadmap.
Based on the charter, an election must be held within 150 days of the organic law on MP elections coming into effect.
The CDC was concerned that if certain controversial points surrounding the bills were not settled at this stage, serious damage could be done to the national administration if they were found to be unconstitutional and the selection of senators, or even the polls themselves, were voided later.
CDC chairman Meechai Ruchupan submitted a letter to the NLA president on Wednesday giving reasons why four contentious points in the two bills, two for each bill, should be settled by the Constitutional Court.
The NLA president said the NLA agreed to send the bill on the selection of senators to the court for a ruling because it shared concerns with the CDC that if the sections were declared unconstitutional later, the whole bill would be scrapped and that would have an unknown effect on the Senate.
The CDC was worried about provisional clauses allowing both Senate candidates to field themselves and organisations to field candidates for selection and demand intra-group selection among candidates instead of cross-group voting.
According to the CDC, this might contravene Section 107 of the constitution which stipulates that senators must be installed from selections made by and among candidates.
“The NLA members submitted their names to support the petition. There are about 30 of them,” said Mr Meechai. A petition requires support from 25 NLA members.
Under the 2017 constitution, senators are seen to have a crucial political role because they have a mandate to join MPs in choosing a non-MP prime minister, a so-called “outsider” prime minister, if the need arises.
Mr Pornpetch said the NLA decided not to seek the court’s ruling on the bill on the election of MPs because they did not see eye to eye with the CDC that the contentious elements were in conflict with the 2017 constitution.
The CDC’s concerns about the election of MPs bill involved Section 35 that prohibits people who fail to vote in national elections without good reason from being appointed as political office holders.
While the charter does say those who fail to cast votes without proper cause may face some restrictions of rights, the CDC felt that barring them from holding political office might be a step too far.
The CDC also raised concerns about a clause in the MP election bill that allows election staff or other individuals to help disabled people cast their vote as it might conflict with the stipulation that ballots must be cast in secret.
According to Mr Pornpetch, if the petition is lodged after the law on MPs is published in the Royal Gazette, it will not affect the election roadmap.
But if the petition is submitted at this stage, publication would have to wait until the court issues its ruling, thus delaying the poll further.
“The issues raised by the CDC are unlikely to lead to the entire bill being scrapped because groups of people can still petition for a ruling after the law is published in the Royal Gazette,” he said.