Unease grows ahead of charter debate

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 September, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 September, 1997, 12:00am

Tension was rising in the capital yesterday ahead of today's parliamentary debate over a new constitution that many consider a unique chance to rid the country of blatant political corruption.

Prime Minister General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh added to spreading unease by sending mixed signals in a television interview, although he appeared to ultimately support the draft.

Pro-democracy activists handing out green ribbons symbolising support for change around the centre of Bangkok yesterday warned that there would be trouble ahead if Parliament rejected the far-reaching constitutional revamp.

But influential village headmen said they would defy orders to stay away from Bangkok, so that they could hold protests against it.

The rural chiefs and other opponents have taken to wearing yellow ribbons to show their contempt for 'communist' changes that threaten their livelihoods.

The money politicians who dominate Thai politics have threatened to sabotage a bill they fear could destroy their power by suppressing vote-buying, pork-barrel politics and bribery.

There appears to be widespread public support for the most far-reaching constitutional revamp since the overthrow of the absolute monarchy in the 1930s.

Yet General Chavalit knows that most of the MPs in his New Aspiration Party are vehemently opposed to the key changes envisaged in the draft, as are most of their colleagues in the six-party ruling coalition. The draft sets potentially embarrassing minimal educational standards for elected officials which could see many MPs tossed out, including the draft's most vociferous adversary, Interior Minister Snoh Thienthong.

When asked where he stood on the draft, General Chavalit replied: 'For me, 100 per cent.' The premier later called for people on 'a collision course . . . to take a step backward'.

The Finance Minister, Thanong Bidaya, told the Foreign Correspondents' Club shortly after General Chavalit spoke that 'this means that hardly anyone will vote against it'.

The powerful opposition Democrat Party, with 123 MPs, will support the draft along with several smaller parties. But they could be easily swamped by the 222 MPs in the coalition.

Once the two-day debate is over Parliament will take a vote on the draft in a fortnight's time.