By Pravit Rojanaphruk
Senior Staff Writer
BANGKOK — Get ready for the junta-sponsored constitution-drafting festival again. Twenty-one (mostly male, all with zero public accountability) members, appointed by junta leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha (also unaccountable to the public), will unveil the next draft charter Friday.
Here are some things you might not want to know about the next constitution, as it is being written:
1. Less Than ‘Permanent’
In Thailand, there’s nothing “permanent” about a “permanent constitution.” In case you’re perplexed by this factual statement, let me remind you that if this junta-sponsored charter passes national referendum, it will become our 20th “permanent constitution.” Twenty charters in a span of eight decades means the average lifespan of a permanent constitution in Thailand is roughly 4 years, making the the notion of a permanent constitution an oxymoron.
2. Free of Participation
As mentioned, 21 people, mostly men, were handpicked by the junta leader to draft a charter presentable to the junta, which is not accountable to the public. Sure, the drafters say anyone can submit suggestions to them, but whether they consider them is another matter. The supreme legal framework is supposed to be participatory, but what we’re getting is the total opposite. Political parties are still banned from even discussing the draft charter.
A real social contract requires genuine involvement of the people. The current process doesn’t even try to make it look that way. And unless this group of drafters think they are at liberty to draft whatever they like, they should only look at the “instructions” laid down in the current junta’s provisional charter to realize that in the new draft charter that it’s not likely to be the case. Also, these charter drafters operate knowing a previous draft written by others has already been rejected by the the junta’s rubber-stamp council. So they better know how to please those that count.
3. Enrhsines Undemocratic Interference
A sneak preview of the proposed constitution spread through the media recently suggests it would grant more power to unelected bodies such as the Constitutional Court in solving political conflicts. Bodies such as the Election and National Anti-Corruption commissions can act against elected governments when their policies are deemed to have damaged the country. Meanwhile the independence of vital organizations such as the National Human Rights Commission is undermined. Critics say mechanisms are being introduced to undermine the sovereign power of the electorate, as elected parliamentarians and politicians can expect less power vis-a-vis unelected state bodies. What’s more, according to law expert Vorajaed Pakeerut of Thammasat University, it appears that changing the charter once it’s adopted is being made very difficult if not virtually impossible. No wonder two bitter political rivals, the Pheu Thai and Democrat parties, are suddenly singing in unison for voters to reject the draft charter.
4. No Social Contract
With no meaningful participation available in the drafting process, the public is unlikely to have a sense of ownership over the charter, even if it passes referendum. The promised up-or-down vote can only provide a veneer of legitimacy. Don’t expect any democracy-loving Thai to be able to cite any article from the charter by heart or with pride. What we will get will be yet another temporary “permanent” constitution.
5. It’s a Distraction
The junta’s sponsored draft charter is a convenient way to buy time and distract the public from other issues.
Think about the number of words and hours spent analyzing, debating and assessing a draft charter (including here), instead of discussing the miraculous state of the economy under the junta or the alleged corruption at Rajabhakti Park. You might think it’s not a bad strategy. It’s a perfect distraction, especially considering the fact that this draft charter may be the second to end up in the trash bin in the latter half of this year. No wonder the media, including Matichon newspaper, a sister publication of Khaosod English, suspects this draft might have been written regressively to court rejection.
6. It’s a Bad Choice
We’re stuck between either endorsing a junta-sponsored constitution that is undemocratic or further extending a prolonged roadmap to restoring democratic rule well past the horizon. Vote it down in the referendum at your own peril and enable the junta to prolong its illegitimate hold on power, reinstall any past, and possibly even less democratic charter, and put it into use or possibly restart a third round of junta-sponsored charter-writing process.
7. Confused Loyalties
The 21 people writing the draft charter are not accountable to us as they are hand-picked by the junta leader Prayuth. If anything, Meechai Ruchuphan, chairman of the drafting committee, might think the people should actually be accountable to them when he said that if this draft is rejected in the referendum, it’s due to people distorted its content, and he won’t be responsible for that.
8. Self-Perpetuating Cycle
The military monopoly over the recent charter drafting process is to replace the 2007 charter, annulled by the coup-makers led by Prayuth on May 22, 2014, which was in fact also a junta-sponsored constitution.
9. Built-in Amnesty
Will the coup-makers be granted amnesty in the temporary provisions of this new draft charter? Is this a serious question? Do you really think these hand-picked drafters will bite the hand that feeds them? In fact, this tradition of granting amnesty to coup-makers is one of the most enduring aspects of any junta-sponsored charter. It is instrumental in implicitly encouraging future coups as coup makers can always count on enjoying amnesty. Granting amnesty to coup makers in the new charter would only pave way for more coups – but do you think these army generals care?
10. Neither Unique nor Extraordinary
Can you still be enthusiastic given all the points raised? If you are a Thai citizen and not near the end of life, you will probably have many more chances to endorse or reject draft permanent constitutions well into the future. And if after reading this column you are still enthusiastic and optimistic, then I can only say, “Good luck to you and Thailand!”
Pravit Rojanaphruk can be followed on Twitter at @PravitR
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