Govt Hints ‘No’ Vote Could Restart Charter Process Third Time

Puangthong, second from left join other academics at a press conference at Thammasat on Sunday to announce their opposition to the charter draft. Photo: Matichon

By Pravit Rojanaphruk
Senior Staff Writer

BANGKOK — A deputy prime minister yesterday played down the possibility of recycling a previous constitution in part or full should the public reject the junta-backed charter.

Wissanu Kreangam said Monday it would not make sense to revive or cobble together old charters for adoption if the public rejects the current proposal championed by the junta. Instead, he said it would make more sense to begin the whole process anew for a third time.

Wissanu’s comments, made to reporters at the Government House in Bangkok, were the first indication of what might happen if the charter goes down in defeat, an outcome the military government has been tight-lipped about.

In response, critics of the present draft charter say rejecting it would be an act of rejection against the junta and whatever legitimacy it’s perceived to hold.

“They can try to go ahead with a third or fourth drafting process, but [society] will become fed up and it will lead to something,” said Sawatree Suksri, a member of the Nitirat group of law lecturers.

A first proposed charter died in utero this past September when a junta-appointed council rejected it before it could go to a public vote.

Earlier this month, Nitirat declared its opposition to the charter in a statement decrying it as undemocratic.

Sawatree, a Thammasat University lecturer, said she hopes the “endgame” plays out with the junta yielding to popular will and allowing an independent process for empanelling a new set of drafters to get to work.

It would be mistaken, she warned, to assume that endorsing the proposed charter is the quickest means of removing the self-styled National Council for Peace and Order, or NCPO.

That’s because it would empower the military to select a majority of the members serving in the upper house of parliament.

Those who drafted the charter say it is a bitter pill designed to immunize the democratic process from corruption and a “tyranny of the majority.”

“No matter what you do, they will stay on longer. Voting to endorse the charter draft would enable [the junta] to stay on through legitimate means under the constitution,” she said.

Puangthong Pawakapan of the Network of Academics for Civil Rights and an associate professor of political science at Chulalongkorn University agreed.

While there’s no way to predict what the endgame will be, she said the junta knows that the public defying its will and rejecting the charter would be tantamount to rejecting the junta itself.

That would seriously affect their perceived legitimacy to rule, Puangthong said. Her group, which counts more than 450 members from about a dozen universities nationwide, announced its opposition to the charter Sunday at Thammasat University.

“We may not be able to oust the junta, but we can make them gradually lose their legitimacy. They know that rejecting the charter draft is equal to rejecting them. If the draft charter isn’t approved through the referendum, it’s not our problem. It’s the NCPO’s problem.”

She also warned that those fed up with the junta and eager for an election will be in for a big disappointment if the charter is adopted because it offers less than an even halfway democratic system.

Anxiety over the “unknown” aspect of the charter endgame is something the junta is counting on, she said.

“The NCPO is playing on fears [of an unknown future],” Puangthong said. “But letting the draft charter be approved would only allow them to stay longer in power and in a legitimate manner.”