BANGKOK – The chairman of the junta-appointed reform council has expressed concern that the new charter will not pass a referendum vote if the Thai people are not properly informed about its new features.
"If the people still don't understand the contents of the constitution draft in a clear manner, and if there is referendum, the draft certainly will not pass," Thianchay Kiranandana, chairman of the National Reform Council (NRC), said yesterday.
He suggested that the charter drafters put more effort in explaining the draft of the constitution – Thailand's 20th in the past 82 years – before a referendum is held.
"If there is really to be a referendum, there should be more channels [of explanation], especially on points that have been criticized a lot," Thianchay told reporters. "If there's only television shows with the hosts simply sitting there and talking, people will be bored. It won't be effective. So, we have to find ways to combat people's boredom. For example, we can use animated cartoons. That will be more likely to get attention and spread understanding on important points, like requirements for the Prime Minister, and requirements for Senators."
Thailand's new charter is being penned by the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC), whose members were chosen by the military junta that toppled an elected government and dissolved the former charter on 22 May 2014. The new constitution is expected to be finished in September, though the junta has not confirmed whether the draft will be put to a referendum vote.
The draft has attracted criticism from anti-coup activists and scholars who say it is less democratic than Thailand's recent constitutions. According to the current draft, the Senate is an appointed body, and the Prime Minister does not need to be an elected MP. In the now-defunct 2007 constitution, a clause explicitly requires Prime Ministers to be elected MPs, and the Senate was a half-elected and half-appointed body.
The junta, formally known as the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), has promised that an election will be held in early 2016 at the earliest, given that political climate is deemed stable. The junta has said the poll may be pushed back further if there is a referendum on the new charter.
Meanwhile, the chairman of the Democrat Party, Abhisit Vejjajiva, warned today that without a referendum the new constitution is unlikely to solve the political issues that have divided Thailand for much of the past decade.
"I insist that the government and the junta carefully think about this," said Abhisit, whose party supported the anti-government protests that led to the 22 May coup. "If there are disputes about the constitution and no referendum, what will guarantee that one or three years from now, Thai people will stop arguing about the constitution? It will be a lost opportunity for the country."
Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly identified Thianchay Kiranandana as chairman of the National Legislative Assembly (NLA). He is in fact chairman of the National Reform Council (NRC).