Auguring Aug. 8: Rejecting Charter Courts Uncertain Scenarios

'Vote No' campaigners pause to take a selfie during a sit-in on Saturday on the skywalk near BTS National Stadium in Bangkok. Photo: Matichon

BANGKOK — Three Sundays from now, the polls will open for the public to vote on the controversial charter drafted under junta guidance, and one of the biggest guessing games is what will happen if it’s rejected.

The military government has kept its cards close to the vest, with the strongest signal coming June 29 from junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha, when he told reporters the drafting process would simply begin for a third time. A few days ago, he added that he would write it himself, only to then say he wasn’t serious.

Asked for their best suggestions, five critics and politicos from across the board differed on the specifics of what should happen but for one point of agreement: They want to see the junta play a lesser role.

Their suggestions ranged from reviving and amending a more acceptable charter from the past or pushing for a speedy election to a sense of despair that Thailand will be trapped without recourse in a crisis of the junta’s making.

Gothom Arya said the public would embrace a former constitution such as that enacted the year he joined the first Election Commission in 1997, a charter considered Thailand’s most progressive to date, or even the junta-sponsored 2007 version which succeeded it and endured until the 2014 coup.

Either should be revived by the National Council for Peace and Order, he said, then amended to enable a quick election that would pave way for a constitution drafting assembly to be created after a general election. Gothom said the junta, which calls itself the National Council for Peace and Order, should not even think of replicating the rejected first or second drafts under the same process, however.

Whatever they do, he added, that need to talk about it.

“They should be clearer about it,” Gothom says.

One of the men who served as a junta-appointed drafter said “there should be another referendum round” but that it should rely on fewer people like him.

Jade Donavanik, who helped write the stillborn first draft, said he would like to see no more than one-third of drafters hand-picked by the junta, with the rest appointed from various sectors in society, as well as the junta-appointed national reform body.

Sawatree Suksri, a Thammasat University law lecturer and member of a group of professors who have advocated for legal reforms also thinks the junta should abandon any thought of appoint another charter drafting committee to pen a third draft.

If rejected, the current draft could be quickly amended instead, Sawatree said, with a clause stipulating a time frame for a newly elected government to complete a new draft constitution.

The suggestions came as call for the regime to ensure a free and fair referendum were issued by the heads of 20 embassies of E.U. member states, the head of the E.U. delegation to Thailand and the ambassadors from the United States and Canada.

“[We] are concerned that prohibitions on the peaceful public expression of views inhibit debate and increase tensions,” read their joint statement Thursday.

It went on to point out “several troubling actions” such as arrests of activists, the shutdown of opposition media and restrictions of free expression in the lead up to the Aug. 7 referendum.

Chaturon Chaisaeng, an MP who served as Education Minister for the deposed Pheu Thai-led government, said public rejection would demand building consensus, with stakeholders meeting to decide how to write the new draft and when to set elections.

Not all think the situation can be salvaged anymore.

Kraisak Choonhavan, a progressive voice in the Democrat Party who served on the Senate from 2000 to 2006  said rejection would come past the point of no return.

“I have been disappointed from the start with the Referendum Act penalty of 10 years imprisonment,” he said, referring to a law passed in late April which effectively criminalized campaigning in public. “This is against the principle of holding a referendum, according to the world’s standards. It’s too late. What would you want me to suggest?

He believes most of his fellow Democrats oppose the way the referendum process has been handled.

“The principle was wrong from the beginning,” Kraisak said.

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