Thailand’s ruling party yesterday said it would push ahead with plans to change the constitution after a court ruled that proposed amendments did not threaten the revered monarchy, a charge that might have led to the party’s dissolution.
The decision means the government is not in danger of falling and should ease political tensions that have spiraled over the past few days.
The Constitutional Court ruled that the government would need the go-ahead from a referendum before an elected assembly could rewrite the constitution, but it left the way open for parts to be changed without that and the ruling party said it might take that route.
“We are sad that the Thai people won’t have a chance to change the charter through elected representatives, but we are likely to proceed with changing the constitution article by article,” Puea Thai party spokesman Prompong Nopparit said.
The government’s “red shirt” supporters, who had been amassing near parliament and had threatened protests if the ruling went against them, were jubilant.
“This is a historic moment for Thailand and we will continue to support the government,” said Thida Thawornseth, leader of the red shirts’ United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship.
The ruling was watched closely because it could have opened another front in Thailand’s seven-year political divide between the royalist establishment and the mostly lower-class red shirts.
Powerful royalists oppose any change to a constitution enacted under a military-backed government in 2007.
“The whole constitution cannot be changed, but an amendment to separate articles in the current constitution can proceed ... If you want to change the whole constitution, you will have to ask the opinion of the Thai people first,” said Nurak Mapraneet, one of the two judges who read out the verdict in court.
That verdict will allow the government time to work how out to proceed without giving either its supporters or opponents too much cause to protest.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 84, who has been in hospital for three years, suffered another bout of ill health overnight and has canceled a trip out of Bangkok at the weekend. He is seen as a unifying figure and the news earlier yesterday added to the tension before the court case.
The government of Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra maintains its proposed changes are part of efforts to bring reconciliation to Thailand, altering a constitution seen by some as undemocratic.