BANGKOK — Opponents of the draft charter reacted harshly to Wednesday’s snubbing of the proposed constitution by none other than Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva.
A day after Abhisit, a former prime minister, announced he would vote to reject the charter, critics faulted him as either an unabashed supporter of ongoing military rule, or worse, a shill trying to save face and prepare a “soft-landing” for the junta should a majority of the electorate agree with him.
“I believe the reason why he came out late is because he waited until he realized the wind was blowing in the direction of the Vote No camp,” said Rangsiman Rome, a student leader of the New Democracy Movement, which has campaigned against the charter draft.
Rangsiman said the move was simply opportunistic.
Abhisit said the proposed constitution would guarantee fewer rights and freedoms than previous charters and would not help to solve Thailand’s problems.
In his Wednesday announcement though Facebook Live, Abhisit walked a fine line, saying he was speaking as party leader but the announcement came not from a formal party resolution, as it is banned from meeting by the junta.
Abhisit also expressed concerns about the bigger role of the unelected senate laid out in the charter, saying it would lead the kingdom into political conflict with elected MPs. What’s more, Abhisit said, mechanisms to check and eradicate corruption have been weakened and contain loopholes.
Though Abhisit rejected the charter, he said the man who appointed its authors, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, should stay on to oversee another drafting process if it goes down in defeat Aug. 7.
A member of the rival Redshirt movement and a former chairwoman of its umbrella group, the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, described Abhisit’s announcement as a mixed bag.
“It’s good news in the short term but bad news in the long term,” said Thida Tavornsaet Tojirakarn, whose group opposes the charter draft.
Thida said Abhisit’s announcement is initially good news because it may encourage more people to vote against the charter draft, but is bad news in the long run because Abhisit gave carte blanche to the junta to restart the drafting process again for a third time.
“He still wants to see dictatorial power,” Thida said.
She said she believes he’s sided with the junta.
“He is not resisting the NCPO,” Thida said referring to the National Council for Peace and Order, the formal name of the military junta which staged the 2014 coup. “Whether the charter gets approved or not, the NCPO maintains the right to draft it anew. He’s not making himself an enemy of the NCPO. Actually he’s on the side of the NCPO and wants it to stay on longer.”
Another ranking member of Abhisit’s party said the lateness in timing was because the party’s wanted to avoid contributing to political conflict on the matter. Deputy party leader Nipit Intarasombat said Abhisit had been waiting for the junta to spell out what would happen if the draft goes down in defeat.
“Timing is important,” Nipit said. “It’s the party’s resolution. Well not formally the party’s resolution but before the leader made the announcement the party executives have substantially discussed the matter and the conclusion was that the party won’t accept the charter draft.”
Nipit said some party members would likely endorse the charter draft due to their support for the stance of the People’s Committee for Absolute Democracy with the King as Head of State, or PCAD, the group which led street protests against the former civilian government and is also known as the People’s Democratic Reform Committee.
There won’t be any campaigning by party members, Nipit said, insisting the party would not be fractured by Abhisit’s decision.
The most cynical reading of Abhisit’s announcement came from Chiang Mai-based political commentator Pipob Udomittipong, who asked whether 51-year-old Abhisit might be colluding with the NCPO to help it save face.
“It’s clearly a way of providing an exit for the NCPO chief. They can handle the outcome both ways,” he said, adding the junta opponents are dammed if the result ends in charter draft rejection as people like Abhisit is paving way for Prayuth to justify staying on and drafting another charter. “You are damned if you do. You are damned if you don’t.”