Thai female politician warns of chaos without charter overhaul

BANGKOK (BLOOMBERG) – Thailand’s most prominent female politician is pushing for a constitution overhaul to pave the way for a pro-democracy government and avoid a political gridlock amid talks of an early election.

“If we don’t rewrite the constitution before the next election, we’ll only see chaos, and political conflict and crisis,” said Ms Sudarat Keyuraphan, a former premier candidate and one of a handful of women in male-dominated Thai politics.

In a vote likely as soon as early next year, pro-democracy parties are set to vie with royalists to form a government despite rules that are stacked in favour of the military-backed ruling party, which backs coup leader-turned-premier Prayut Chan-O-cha.

Ms Sudarat remains the favourite pro-democracy candidate to win the election, second only to Mr Prayut.

The call for a constitution overhaul echoes one of the key demands of the youth-led protest movement that has also been pressing for reform of the nation’s monarchy.

In response, lawmakers last month only amended parts of the constitution concerning election rules that favour large parties, including the ruling Palang Pracharath.

Under the current charter, 250 senators appointed by Mr Prayut’s military government will take part in a premier vote, giving the ruling party an advantage in the next poll. That could result in a repeat of the 2019 elections that saw the establishment keeping power.

But even if the pro-democracy parties do win enough votes to form a government, challenges lie ahead, Ms Sudarat said.

“This constitution has many mechanisms that can overthrow a pro-democracy government, and these mechanisms will kick into full gear against the government that stands against the regime.”

“It can end the pro-democracy government within three to six months with these mechanisms without having to roll out the tanks,” she said in an interview. “I’m trying to form a united front to push for a national referendum. This is a solution to end the political crisis that’s lawful and peaceful.”

Last year, Ms Sudarat left a party linked to her long-time ally Thaksin Shinawatra to start the Thai Sang Thai Party, a move that she described as her “last mission” to top off her three-decade career in politics.

“The party is created to be a real political institution. Parties in Thailand are usually started by tycoons or political dynasties, or created just for the continuation of the regime,” Ms Sudarat said. “In the age of disruption, politics has to change too.”

She was one of the co-founders of the Thai Rak Thai party, along with Mr Thaksin, and served as health and agriculture minister during his administration before the 2006 coup, which resulted in a five-year ban from politics for party members.

Mr Thaksin’s allies regrouped under the People’s Power Party before it disbanded in 2008, with the remaining members moving to the Pheu Thai party.

Now her goal is to win votes on a platform of “empowering and liberating” people, with support for small businesses and startups and reforms in education and regulations that could lead to job creation.

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