BANGKOK – Thailand’s military government has promised that the new charter will not support any of the country’s political factions, despite the conservative leaning of the 36 people appointed to the drafting committee this week.
"This Constitution will not be any colour. It's a colour-blind charter," Deputy Prime Minister Wisanu Krue-ngam said yesterday in reference to Thailand’s colour-coded politics. For much of the past decade, Thailand has been polarised by a political battle between the mostly-poor and rural Redshirts and the urban and elite-backed Yellowshirts.
The Deputy Prime Minister's statement came after Redshirt supporters criticised the conservative makeup of the newly formed 36-seat Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC), which is headed by a staunch Yellowshirt academic, Bowornsak Uwanno.
The committee has been tasked with drafting a charter to replace the constitution dissovled by Thailand's military leaders after they staged a coup on 22 May.
Six other members of the CDC also have a history of supporting the Yellowshirt movement, which has staged prolonged street protests to successfully pave the way for the ousting of five Prime Ministers backed by Redshirts.
Three other CDC members are military officers, and the rest are long-time bureaucrats and academics. None of the CDC members have any known ties to Redshirt organisations.
The charter drafters were selected by the military junta, formally known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), the Cabinet, the National Legislative Assembly, and the National Reform Council. The latter three groups were also appointed by the junta.
Speaking to reporters yesterday, Wisanu said the 11 CDC members allotted to the NCPO and Cabinet were handpicked by Prime Minister and junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha himself.
"We have inquired about the background of each individual. We found that none of them are involved in any conflicts," Wisanu said.
He also dismissed media speculation that the CDC, like the reform council, is dominated by the so-called "Chulalongkorn Connection," a clique of conservative academics from Chulalongkorn University. CDC chairman Bowornsak is considered a member of the clique.
"If we look at the list, you will see that there are many colours, like green, yellow, red, pink [the official colour of Chulalongkorn University]," Wisanu explained, "I insist that when we appointed these people, we didn't have any colour or connection in mind. Everyone has one anyway. But connections are fine, as long as they aren’t a conspiracy."
According to the 2014 interim charter, which was partly drafted by Wisanu, the reform council will advise the CDC and a final version of the charter draft will be approved by the NLA, the Cabinet, and the military junta.
The new constitution will further seal Thailand's record as the country with the most number of charters in the world; the nation has seen 18 constitutions since constitutional democracy was installed in June 1932.
It is also the second time Bowornsak, a well-known conservative law academic, is involved in the drafting of a charter. He also sat in the committee that drafted the 1997 Constitution, which was nicknamed "The People's Constitution" for its role in steering Thailand toward a more democratic governance.
However, Bowornsak later said in an interview with Manager newspaper that the 2007 constitution, which followed the 2006 military coup, was an "improved version" of the People's Constitution. That constitution was seen as major step back for Thai democracy, as it did away with a fully-elected Senate and gave more power to “independent,” unelected bodies.
"The new constitution that is being drafted right now is, in fact, an improved version of the 1997 Constitution," said Bowornsak, who was serving as a lawmaker in the post-coup government at the time. "I think it deserves some praise."
Gen. Prayuth says he led the 22 May coup – the twelfth in modern Thai history – to prevent mounting protests from spiraling out of control. Prior to the military takeover, anti-government Yellowshirt protesters demanded that unspecified “national reforms” be held before the next election, while Redshirt activists rallied in support of holding elections first.
Many critics of the coup view the junta's reform effort as evidence of the military’s tacit alliance with Thailand's Yellowshirt faction. The reforms are widely expected to curb the influence of the Redshirt-supported political parties, backed by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, that have won every national election since 2001.