BANGKOK — Charter amendment, ending military conscription, and encouraging young opponents of the Prayuth Chan-ocha administration to come out in force on the streets are key issues that pro-democracy camp hopes to push for in 2020.
As the election year is ending, anti-government activists are reassessing their priorities for next year. Thanks to gerrymandering and other controversial voting rules, Gen. Prayuth won another term as the Prime Minister and achieved the title he had long sought after: head of an elected government regime.
Fed up with insults that young netizens are merely a creature of social media too lazy or indifferent to take to the streets in a show of force, student activist Tanawat Wongchai, 21, decided to test the water by organizing “Run Against Dictatorship” set for Jan 12.
“We have been insulted that we only loud online and is invisible in the real world so we will show that we do really exist in flesh and blood,” Tanawat , who has over 33,600 followers on his Twitter account, said by phone.
The third-year economics student at Chulalongkorn University said young, progressive Thais may not be ready to stage a full blown demonstration yet, so a symbolic running event in public will be a transitional step.
At the time of the interview, Tanawat said he was hopeful that at least 1,000 people will join the event. Latest information shows all 8,000 tickets and kits for the day of action were already sold out, though it is still unclear how many would actually turn up.
“I expect a thousand. If it doesn’t reach a thousand, then it’s the organizer’s [fault] for failing to make it attractive,” Tanawat said.
Resist the Draft
A second issue that will put the power of pro-democracy camp to test is the effort to abolish compulsory military conscription, or at least introduce a voluntary system where a conscript can opt for civic services instead.
Student activist Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal is spearheading the move outside the Parliament while Future Forward Party is pushing for a legal amendment inside.
Netiwit acknowledged that gaining for public support is necessary, since the issues faces stiff opposition from the armed forces and the military-backed government.
“We now see the resistance and it won’t be easy. Next year we will reach out and we need legitimacy from society to endorse the reform,” Netiwit, who studies at Chulalongkorn University, said in an interview.
He predicts that a compromise where military conscripts are given a choice to take up public services as the most plausible outcome. Netiwit also advocates for the term of conscription to be cut from the current two years. Taiwan, he added, has reduced it to four months.
“We will likely be able to obtain a consensus. The public must press ahead. In reality, this is a struggle against a form of militarization,” Netiwit said.
Future Forward Party deputy leader Chamnan Chanruang said a draft amendment proposed by the party is now waiting to be debated by the lawmakers.
“I believe the government will propose an alternative draft amendment,” Chamnan said, adding that some reforms on the current system are inevitable.
Much more uncertain is the attempt to amend or rewrite the junta-sponsored charter, which pro-democracy activists say undermines electoral power and allows the military to rule by other names.
MP Chamnan said a crucial effort would be to build a social consensus in order to convince the junta-appointed Senate to support the move. He added that the 2000 “People’s Constitution” was born that way. Despite politicians’ unwillingness to endorse it at first, they could not oppose the growing public demand, he said.
“The Senate will follow [if consensus is achieved]. They won’t be able to resist,” Chamnan said.
Over half of the combined upper and lower houses, or over 375 seats, will be needed for a proposed amendment to pass the first reading. Amending the constitution also requires approval from one third of the junta-appointed senate.
Outside parliament, there are several groups and networks campaigning for it.
Political activist Nuttaa Mahattana is a coordinator for the recently-formed Association for Democratic Constitution which will push for a new draft charter next year.
Nuttaa said her group is unique because it consists of influencers from different sectors of society including former foreign affairs minister and ex-Yellowshirt leader Kasit Piromya, and former Election Commissioner Somchai Srisutthiyakorn.
Nuttaa said there’s a need to build a “grand coalition” that cuts across traditional political divide in order to amend the charter or replace it with a more democratic one. She conceded that her goal is “very difficult” to achieve, but maintained that the existing constitution is doing more harm than good.
“It’s like the country can’t move forward. And more problems will come from it,” said Nuttaa.