By Pravit Rojanaphruk
Senior Staff Writer
BANGKOK — Critics see the junta’s recent recommendations as to what should be written into the next constitution as a sign of insecurity and distrust toward its own appointed drafters while others say that’s just part of the process.
Although opinions vary on what should be read into 10 junta recommendations formally submitted Nov. 18 to the Constitutional Drafting Committee, most urged the public to remain engaged and keep a close eye on the drafting process, regardless of any disappointment.
“Although they picked [the drafters] themselves, the junta still doesn’t trust them,” said Phayao Akkahad, a well-known political activist and mother of a volunteer nurse slain during the bloody 2010 crackdown on Redshirts. “They’re probably insecure.”
Artist and political activist Sinsawat Yodbantoey said they may be worried about other sources of influence.
“The distrust is there. Even though the draft charters were handpicked by the junta, and this reflects their lack of legitimacy,” said Sinsawat, adding that the junta is well aware that it can’t block others from lobbying for a desired charter. “Thus they can’t really be trusting.”
Sinsawat believes that in the end, the draft charter will more or less reflect the wishes of the junta. The first draft is due by April, about six months after the first was scuttled under junta orders in September.
Once a draft is ready, Sinsawat said, those who disapproved of the process will have to decide how – or whether – to vote in the planned referendum.
“I am against the whole process from the very beginning,” Sinsawat said. “Everything about it, through all stages, is abnormal. The referendum would only be a way to hide everything and distract the people. I’m probably not going to take part in [the referendum]. My intention was to have nothing to do with it at all.”
Scrutiny a Must
Associate Professor Pichit Likitsomboon of Thammasat University is also a junta opponent, but he takes a more real-politik approach to the whole process.
Pichit said that whether one likes the junta, one has to pay attention to its proposals and how charting process takes shape because, at the end of the day, it will impact everyone.
Pichit said he’s concerned claims by the regime that the drafting process would be inclusive and participatory have not materialised. At the same time, he expects the drafters to yield to the junta’s demands on issues such as granting amnesty to the coup makers and more.
Other controversial issues among the junta’s recommendations included permitting military officers to express political opinion publicly like ordinary citizens. Taken along with other recommendations, this seemed intended to indemnify the military rank and file if they acted “honestly” under orders.
Soldiers line up in Yala province to cast their votes in the 2007 constitution referendum in this Aug. 19, 2007, file photo.
Also worrying to observers again was urging the inclusion of a body or mechanism legally enshrining the military’s ability to seize power. The sixth recommendation pertains to ensuring the country won’t hit a “dead end,” and is widely interpreted as writing into the law an unelected body that can usurp power of the elected executive and legislative branches.
Such a clause was widely panned by activists and politicos from across the spectrum in the first draft charter.
“It won’t be surprising if the charter drafters adopt all the recommendations made by the junta, because they were all appointed by the junta,” Pichit said. “The end results would not reflect the aspirations of the majority, and this is a problem.”
Under No Obligation
Constitution Drafting Committee co-spokesperson Amorn Wanichwiwatana denied the document’s 23 drafters are obliged to follow all the recommendations made by the junta, however. He said the recommendations were part of the normal process laid out, and other bodies such as the cabinet, are also expected to submit their own recommendations.
“Normally the committee must listen to views, not just those of the NCPO,” said Amorn, using the acronym for the junta’s formal name, the National Council for Peace and Order.” As for the pressure to comply, I won’t give a political answer, but I insist there’s no condition that we would have to adopt the 10 recommendations.”
Amorn added that the recommendation military officers should have the freedom to speak about politics publicly has proven controversial with drafting committee.
“We haven’t concluded the matter yet,” he said. “We have to see if that would affect the impartiality of government officials or not.”
Granting amnesty and legal immunity to security forces is worrying to Phayao, the mother of the volunteer nurse allegedly killed by soldiers in 2010.
Phayao said the proposal for military officers to be legally unaccountable for the use of force if they acted under orders is unacceptable.
“Thailand’s [system] is that of a state within a state,” she said. “Even if we can elect a prime minister, when the time comes, the most powerful person will still be from the army.”
Gothom Arya, Mahidol University peace academic and former election commissioner, is running a series of public discussions on what the new charter ought to look like, which has previously submitted its own recommendations.
Gothom said he has no qualm with the junta submitting its own wish list, as the rules allow for that. However, he said there has been no tangible proof the charter process is truly participatory, pointing out the ongoing ban on political gatherings of five or more people is a hindrance to any effective participation and deliberation.
As to soldiers being allowed to freely and publicly air their political views, Gothom said it could lead to insubordination toward a civilian government.
He said he’s not ready to make up his mind about the new draft charter until he sees the final results.