Editorial: Junta’s Charter Paints Grim Future for Thai Democracy

NCPO chairman Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha receiving the 2014 Interim Constitution from His Majesty the King, 22 July 2014.

The junta's 2014 Interim Constitution is robbing Thai people of their political voices.

Two months after staging a coup d’etat, Thailand’s military junta unveiled a temporary constitution outlining the formation of an interim government that is expected to administer the country until the end of the next year.

The National Council For Peace and Order (NCPO) dissolved Thailand’s 2007 constitution almost immediately after seizing power on May 22, and until last week, ruled over the Kingdom without a charter.

While the return of a constitution should mark a step forward in the direction of democracy, a close look at the 2014 Interim Charter reveals that it is actually a discouraging step backwards.

The most concerning section of the constitution is Article 44, which effectively enshrines the NCPO’s absolute power into the Kingdom’s highest body of law.

Article 44 grants the NCPO power to unilaterally intervene “regardless of its effects on the legislative, executive or judiciary” in the name of defending Thailand against threats to “public order, national security, the monarchy, national economy or sovereignty.”

Not only is the NCPO given this carte blanche to intervene in almost any situation, but “all orders or acts [taken under these circumstances] are to be regarded as lawful and constitutional.”

In other words, nothing the NCPO does can be considered illegal. Furthermore, this absolute power will not be subject to any oversight, judicial or otherwise.

The 2014 interim charter also establishes three governmental bodies that will be tasked with fundamentally restructuring Thailand’s system of government, yet are unlikely to represent broad swaths of the population.

According to the charter, the members of the National Legislative Assembly and Reform Council will be appointed by the King “in accordance with the recommendations of the National Council for Peace and Order,” (Section 6 and Section 28), and the chairman of the Reform Council will in turn appoint the members of the Constitution Drafting Committee (Section 32), which will be tasked with writing a permanent constitution.

Not only is the NCPO granted the power to appoint the members of these bodies, but Sections 8 and 33 of the interim charter preemptively narrow the pool of possible nominees for the NLA and Constitution Drafting Committee to those who have not held positions in political parties over the past three years. With all recently active political figures barred from the get-go, it’s almost certain that the interim government will be dominated by military personnel and their loyal allies.

Finally, the charter makes no mention of putting a draft of the permanent constitution up to a referendum, effectively shutting out Thai people’s ability to weigh in on the future of their country’s government. 

With the power to essentially handpick the writers of Thailand’s political future, the NCPO has ensured that its interests will be protected for years to come. It's also likely that the reforms pursued over the next year will align with the NCPO’s vision for Thailand. Based on how the junta has governed since seizing power on 22 May, this vision will likely involve a curb on human rights, political freedoms, and democratic values. 

As many human rights activists have warned, the current interim constitution robs Thai people of their political voices. Any reforms – constitutional or otherwise – should be carried by an inclusive, democratically elected, civilian government. 

 

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