Final Draft of Charter Out, Critics Resolute on Rejection

Constitution Drafting Committee Chairman Meechai Ruchuphan displays the final draft of the charter March 29 in Bangkok.

By Pravit Rojanaphruk
Senior Staff Writer

BANGKOK — Although the final draft of the junta-sponsored charter is just being rolled out today, some critics have already made up their minds.

Democracy activist leader Sombat Boonngamanon, Redshirt leader Weng Tojirakarn and law lecturer Ekachai Chainuvati are among those who’ve decided to vote against the draft, citing its undemocratic process and content.

“I will reject it, and the reason is that the drafting process is problematic and unacceptable,” Sombat said, citing the fact it was written by 21 people all appointed by the military. “The drafting process is also non-participatory.”

Sombat said no possibility should have been left open to a non-MP becoming prime minister. The fact that no senators will be elected by the public, and in effect be selected by the junta is also a reason, he said.

Ekachai cited the illegitimacy of the process as his reason to reject it.

“I don’t believe that a coup d’etat can can solve political problems,” he said.

The Siam University law lecturer also cited the fact that upper house members would be chosen by a panel appointed by the National Council for Peace and Order, the formal name of the junta, as another reason to reject it.

That’s made worse, he added, be the senate being made more powerful than the House of Representatives and able to vote for a prime minister in case of a deadlock in the lower house.

“The senate should never be able to override the House of Representatives,” he said.

Charter drafters have marketed their proposed constitution as necessary to end an endemic culture of corruption in Thai politics.

Ekachai said it just makes things worse, citing increased powers granted to the controversial Constitutional Court as another reason: “Giving the court the power to become a political actor.”

As for Weng, he said he made up his mind some time ago.

“I will definitely reject this most horrible draft charter. Having coup makers drafting the charter cannot ever make it democratic,” he said, adding that its drafters tend to defend their class interests.

Weng called the latest charter draft the worse of both worlds, comparing it with the 1978 charter, which had an appointed upper house and unelected PM, combined with the 2007 charter, which gave a lot of power to so-called independent organizations.

All three are also concerned the referendum process may not be free and fair as critics and opponents do not have equal space and freedom to articulate their positions due to external constraints, such as the ban on political gatherings.

Weng cited as an example a threat to imprison for 10 years those who try to derail the vote.

“It’s like our ears, eyes and hands are being tied or shut,” he said.

For Ekachai, the most worrying aspect is the lack of equal freedom of expression to deliberate on the draft. He fears the absolute power provided to the junta leader under Article 44 of the provisional charter will be used to further curb such freedoms in the run-up to the vote, now expected in early August.

Ekachai vowed to express his stance through writing opinion pieces for the media with a focus on the constitutional process.

“All people, no matter what [their political] color should come and speak out,” he said.

Sombat, who is already facing trial for sedition for a failed attempt to overthrow the junta, is also gearing up to speak out. He refused to go into details at this time.

Sombat also led a failed campaign to reject the previous junta-sponsored draft constitution in 2007.

He used the color red to represent a traffic light stop signal, a color that would soon be adopted by Redshirts.

Sombat said there’s now much less freedom to deliberate on the next constitution compared to 2007.

“I am still looking for ways to express myself,” he said. “If I simply show up, I could be whisked away. I won’t say what I’m gonna do yet.”