Ball in Junta's Court After Charter Drafters Endorse Referendum

Thai junta chairman Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, who will have the final say on a referendum for the new charter.

BANGKOK — The Constitutional Drafting Committee (CDC) will formally ask the ruling military junta to organize a referendum on the new constitution, a spokesperson said.

The CDC, a body appointed by the junta to replace the charter dissolved after the May 2014 coup, reached a consensus on the question of a referendum after a two-hour meeting today, said Gen. Lertrat Rattanavanich.

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The 
Constitutional Drafting Committee (CDC) decided to endorse a referendum during a meeting on 13 May 2015.

The committee will now submit its opinion to the junta and the Cabinet, both of which are led by coup leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, who will have the final say.  

According to Gen. Lertrat, the CDC agreed that as the highest body of law, the constitution requires "social consensus." Gen. Lertrat also noted that there was a referendum for the previous constitution, which was written after the 2006 coup. 

"In this [current] draft of the constitution, we focus on the participation of the citizens as our main principle," Lertrat told reporters. "Therefore, there should be a referendum."

Gen. Lertrat said the constitution will be considered legally "accepted" if more than half of the country’s eligible voters participate in the poll, and more than half the participants vote in favor of the charter. According to these conditions, at least 11.75 million people would need to approve the constitution for it to pass.

Other details about the format and options put forth in the referendum will be left to the junta to decide, Gen. Lertrat said.  

Asked whether he believes a referendum will derail the junta's "road map" to democracy, which calls for a national election in early 2016, Gen. Lertrat replied, "I don't think it will affect the road map, because some political parties said themselves that they can wait another year for an election."

Gen. Prayuth, who has neither endorsed nor ruled out a referendum, has expressed concern that the vote will push back the timeline for elections.

The junta’s charter draft has been widely condemned by pro-democracy activists and politicians on both sides of the aisle. Critics say the constitution cripples elected politicians with an uneven balance of power that favors appointed watchdog groups, whose members are historically allied with the traditional elite. The charter’s most controversial features include the establishment of a mostly-appointed Senate and the option for an unelected Prime Minister.

Some pro-democracy activists and politicians have proposed the junta organize a referendum that would allow voters to choose between the junta’s charter and the 1997 constitution, which was written by an elected assembly and is known as the “People’s Constitution” for its egalitarian nature.

Other activists in Thailand have campaigned for a referendum that would give Thais the chance to elect a fresh assembly of drafters to pen a new charter altogether.

In the referendum for the 2007 charter, which was also drafted by a junta-appointed council, voters were only permitted to accept or decline the document. Critics say that many voters reluctantly approved the junta’s charter out of fear that the undisclosed alternative would be worse.

Gen. Lertrat added that the CDC has also dismissed a suggestion by a member of the junta-appointed National Reform Council (NRC) that the junta to stay in power for two more years. 

 

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