Be Fair Even to the Unfair and Accept Referendum Outcome* (*If It’s Clean)

Election Commission staff demonstrate casting ballots for the August 2016 referendum at a school in Ubon Ratchathani province.

Retention

One of the biggest dilemmas facing those opposed to the coup makers is whether to participate in tomorrow’s referendum on the controversial junta-sponsored charter.

It must be stated outright that the process leading up to Aug. 7 referendum has fallen far short of free and fair. Public campaigns for or against it have been criminalized, punishable by 10 years imprisonment under the Referendum Act passed by the junta’s rubber-stamp parliament, the National Legislative Assembly.

Pravit RojanaphrukSpreading anything deemed as “distorting” the charter is also a crime. As I pen this commentary, 20 people have been put behind bars for these absurd “crimes.”

Two dozen symposiums and seminars critical of the charter have been banned in recent months.

Junta leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha also insists that instead of resigning, he will remain and be in charge of drafting a third charter draft if this second version is rejected.

All these factors, not to mention the undemocratic nature of the charter itself, such as ensuring that virtually all of the 250 senators will be appointed by the junta, are enough reasons to reject the charter.

But some have already denounced the whole process as a sham and called for a boycott of the polls.

A group calling itself “Civilians Reserving the Right to Reject Results of the Unfair and Unfree Referendum,” led by political activist Jitra Cotchadet, submitted an open letter Thursday to the National Human Rights Commission calling for a new draft vote, saying the current one fails to meet international standarRds. They want people to be able to choose between either the 1997 or the 2007 charters, both invalidated by different coups.

Yet these people’s stance will ensure that there will be no consensus even after the results come out, no matter how.

This is an understandable stance, and in fact the Referendum Act also bizarrely and unfairly criminalizes anyone calling for a boycott of the Sunday’s referendum.

Yet these people’s stance will ensure that there will be no consensus even after the results come out, no matter how.

For those who will vote No against the junta-sponsored charter tomorrow, they should be fair enough to accept results that may not be to their liking, so long as there’s no clear evidence comes to light that major rigging of the polls took place.

If you are a boxer and don’t like the rules and regulations, you can’t enter the ring and denounce the outcome. If you enter the ring despite the unfair rules, you should grudgingly be willing to accept the results.

As much as the whole process is evidently unfair, as reflected by the calls by international bodies and foreign governments for the junta to allow freedom of expression in public debate and unhampered deliberation, those against the junta must decide whether to boycott or try to vote down the charter.

If they participate in the voting tomorrow, they should be fair, honest and honorable enough to accept whatever results as long as the voting and the counting process is transparent and clean. This doesn’t mean they have to force themselves to accept the junta as legitimate.

The referendum cannot be about about whitewashing the junta, which lacked legitimacy from day one, starting May 22, 2014, and will continue to be illegitimate even after tomorrow, no matter the results. It’s about respecting the voices of the tens of millions of voters who will be able to exercise their right to vote, in relative freedom, as to what they think of the charter draft and the junta itself, however.

Be fair even to the unfair military junta, for two wrongs cannot make a thing right or fair.

Millions of Thai citizens will speak tomorrow, and no matter which side of the political divide you stand, let us try to respect and listen to those voices and make sense out of it, regardless of whether you or I like it or not.