Reject the Draft Charter to Break the Cycle of Coups

Illustration to Dante's Inferno, 1857, Gustave Dore.

By Pravit Rojanaphruk
Senior Staff Writer

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BANGKOK — Has giving a middle finger to the junta’s draft charter become a crime in Thailand? When I posted such a photo recently along with another version in which I gave it a thumbs-up junta reps rang me up twice to express their displeasure before putting pressure on my employer Friday.

But none of that’s why I will reject its proposed constitution.

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While many will reserve judgment until the final draft is issued by the end of March, I will not. I have already decided that I must reject it.

It’s not because I don’t care about the content of what could become Thailand’s 20th “permanent” constitution. My reason to reject it cannot be found in its 270 articles (nor their many flaws).

Nor do I have anything personal against junta leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, who staged the coup in 2014, or the charter drafters. In fact I’ve known drafting committee spokesman Amorn Wanichwiwatana since we were trapped together at the same university in England a decade and a half ago, while another, Norachit Sinhaseni, served under my father at the Thai Embassy in Manila. I call him “Uncle Norachit” to this day.

It pains me to see them on the junta’s side of the political divide, but it’s their choice, and I respect that.

Personal connections and sentiments aside, I am being a political early bird and announcing that I will vote against the charter on July 31 because, to me, its context is more important than its content.

More important than being asked what kind of constitution we want to have is weighing in on what kind of Thailand we’d like to live in. A Thailand where the military presents us fresh constitutions to approve after tearing up the last is not for me.

I am not a dog that will keep fetching a Frisbee thrown by its master without questioning why I should be stuck in a never-ending game.

First, the whole drafting process is illegitimate and undemocratic. The current (second) effort stems from the 2014 coup. People only need a new constitution because the coup makers tore up the previous one when they staged a putsch. That 2007 constitution was also prepared under military sponsorship, but at least it was adopted by voters after a period of free debate in which people were allowed to publicly campaign for or against it.

Those who now want to campaign against it are being threatened with prosecution. In recent weeks, two meetings to debate the draft were banned by the junta: one at the National Institute of Development Administration in Bangkok and another at a kindergarten in Amnat Charoen province. We’re unlikely to see an end to such censorship and restriction.

Up until now, with less than six months to go before it goes to a vote, Thai citizens are not being told what will happen if they reject it.

Second, the whole process was not participatory. All 21 charter drafters, mostly men, were appointed by junta leader Prayuth without any consultation with the public.

Third and most importantly, endorsing the junta-sponsored draft charter is tantamount to endorsing more coups in the future because it validates the whole cycle.

The message sent to the generals is that they can always get away with seizing power and starting the whole protracted process over again because people will dutifully come out to vote on such drafts based only on their content.

Like the dog and frisbee, the public seems to have no political memory of doing it all before and is stuck in a loop approving military-sponsored charters for the purpose of being torn up by future coup-makers.

Instead of weighing its articles and clauses, voters should apply the same bigger-picture thinking as when buying a used car – be sure it’s not stolen and thus won’t perpetuate thievery and looting.

Come July 31, I am going to have to say NO to the draft charter, regardless of its virtues or problems, to play my part in ending the cycle of coups.

Do not encourage more political thievery and looting. Do not encourage more coups.

 

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