Nothing to Celebrate on Constitution Day

Demonstrators shroud Democracy Monument with black cloth on March 21, 2014.

Re•tention: Pravit RojanaphrukTomorrow is Constitution Day. But what’s really left to really celebrate?

Eight and a half decades after the 1932 revolt put the “constitutional” into constitutional monarchy, the kingdom has seen too many charters discarded. The current one is No. 20. Divide that by 85 years, you get an average lifespan for Thai constitutions of just slightly over four years.

An average car is more durable. A typical refrigerator is going to get more use.

Except for law professors, law students, historians or junta-hired hands tasked with writing up another new one, it would be difficult to find anyone with a strong attachment to the Thai constitution.

There are just too many to choose from. And by the time you grew fond of any one in particular, maybe managing to memorize some articles by heart, it’s gone! Annulled in another military coup.

Of course one should still read them. The devil is always in the details, particularly those of our latest 2017 edition. It legally enshrines the junta leader’s continued use of the absolute power clause he wrote into his 2014 provisional charter after he tore up the previous military-sponsored constitution. Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha can make anything legal with a single order, at least until his “National Council for Peace and Order” ceases to exist.

In Juntaland, coups and constitution referendums are almost like death and taxes – you cannot avoid them. The fact that Thai constitution comes and go ever so often means people, myself included, feel no sentimental attachment to it.

In some democratic countries, people cite their constitutions with pride and recite it to insist on their inalienable rights. In Thailand, unless you are appointed by the military to write a new one, the latest “supreme law of the land” is more of an alien document than inspiring social contract.

They most often inspire the question of how long they will last before someone in a uniform decides to tear it up.

I confess to be so indifferent to these junta-sponsored constitutions, to the point of dislike and contempt for those who lend their services to help legitimize successive military juntas in abrogating them.

Intentionally or not, these people make future coups plausible as army generals can always count on the services of these legal experts and high-profile public figures. These people really believe they can just write some rules down without our participation and expect us to cherish and be proud of it. Nay.

This vicious cycle is so hermetic that the previous 2007 constitution, which was annulled by the 2014 coup, was in fact sponsored by a previous military junta which staged a previous coup in 2006. A junta-sponsored charter torn up by another military junta. It’s hard to choose, which junta-sponsored constitution is your favorite?

I wish I could write a love poem to the Thai constitutions. Instead, as long as the situation remains the same, the only thing I could penn are lamentations.

So besides being a public holiday, and this year Monday is a substitution holiday for Dec. 10, which falls on Sunday, what is there to celebrate or remember?

If anything, the day is a good occasion for Thais to reflect upon and re-examine the failure of modern Thai politics and democracy.

More focus and effort should be made to strengthen the unwritten social contract. Stand up to those who would steal your power, resist military rule to the point where one day, no interim charter or junta-sponsored drafter can ever hope to whitewash the usurpers with a veneer of legitimacy.

The unwritten social contract entails a willingness to strike a political compromise with those who disagree about politics without resorting to supporting yet another coup that leads to yet another “constitution.”

Tolerance, open-mindedness, respect for rights and liberties, acceptance of political diversity – these are things no constitution can imbue a society with without efforts to practice it in real life.

When written rules are so empty and fleeting, it’s best to put more efforts elsewhere out of reach of the coup-makers’ written rules.