Pheu Thai joins bid to have S44 order quashed

Pheu Thai’s caretaker secretary-general Phumtham Wechayachai banters with media workers ahead of Wednesday’s press briefing on the party’s challenged to a Section 44 order on political parties. (Photo by Pawat Laopaisarntaksin)

The Pheu Thai Party petitioned the Constitutional Court Wednesday to rule on whether the Section 44 order issued by the prime minister to amend the organic law on political parties violates basic rights of party members.

The party announced its decision to seek clarification from the court in the hope of nullifying the Section 44 order.

The petition, signed by 15 party members, was submitted to the court via the Ombudsman office by Wattana Tiengkul, Pheu Thai’s legal representative.

Speaking to the media, Phumtham Wechayachai, the party’s caretaker secretary-general, said the order defied the constitution in many areas and infringes on the rights and freedom of party members.

The order was invoked by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha in his capacity as chief of the National Council for Peace and Order. The premier obtained the power to issue the order under the previous interim charter. The power has been carried over to the present constitution.

Mr Phumtham insisted the NCPO leader had no business exercising the power to change the organic law because the amendment must be done by the National Legislative Assembly.

He said the organic law was passed by the NLA before being royally endorsed which completed the law enactment process. The Section 44 order, therefore, overruled the NLA’s legislative authority which is unconstitutional, Mr Phumtham argued.

The order dated Dec 22 last year has been met with fierce criticism from both the Pheu Thai Party and the Democrat Party, the two biggest parties.

The prickly issues stemming from the amendment of the organic law are related to members of parties being required to produce letters to confirm their membership and pay party fees within 30 days of April 1 or lose their status.

The order also gives new parties a month’s head start. Existing parties will not be able to begin their member registration process until April 1, while new parties can start on March 1.

Many politicians expressed concerns about the pressing deadlines introduced as a result of the order having been invoked. Mr Phumtham said Wednesday the country was governed by the powers of the legislative, executive and judicial branches which protect people’s rights. Gen Prayut exercises his authority under the constitution and must respect it, he said.

He said the order goes against the people’s basic rights to party membership. The amendment has made it time-consuming and difficult for parties to get confirmation of memberships which must be verified by more than a dozen state agencies. The steps are excessive and only add to parties’ burdens, which contradicts the spirit of the constitution, he said.

Chusak Sirinil, head of the Pheu Thai Party’s legal team, dismissed some legal experts’ remarks that the Section 44 order was final and not subject to constitutional interpretation.

Mr Chusak said if the court rules the Section 44 order on the organic law amendment is unconstitutional, the pre-amendment version of the organic law would be revived.

Pheu Thai leading figure Chaturon Chaisang said the amendment could destroy parties and create political instability that could delay the next general election and allow the NCPO to stay on in power.