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Thailand's Military-Backed Government to Stay in Power After Draft Charter's Rejection

File photo of Thailand's legislative hall where the National Reform Council held a session to vote against the proposed constitution. Photo by John Vincent, Copyright @Demotix (1/16/2015)

File photo of Thailand's legislative hall where the National Reform Council held a session to vote against the proposed constitution. Photo by John Vincent, Copyright @Demotix (1/16/2015)

Thailand's draft constitution was rejected by members of the National Reform Council (NRC) which paves the way for continued military rule in the country.

When the military staged a coup last year, it vowed to implement political reforms before conducting elections. As part of the normalization process, it drafted a constitution which is supposed to restore civilian rule in the country. But on September 6, 2015, the NRC voted to reject the draft constitution. Members of the NRC were appointed by the military-backed government.

Members of the National Reform Council pose for a group photo right before the draft constitution voting session

Implications of the draft charter's rejection

Because of the NRC's negative vote, the government has to form another Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) within 30 days, and that committee will be given 180 days to draft another constitution. The new draft will be subject to a referendum process. If it is passed, the draft will be submitted to the king for his signature. Then the CDC will draw up new laws for the constitution which will be reviewed by the National Legislative Assembly and the Constitutional Court. This will be followed by the election of a House of Representatives in March 2017. This means that the military government will remain in power for more than a year and a half.

Scenario 3 in the infographic below summarizes the new process in reforming the charter

Infographic created by alternative news website Prachatai

Infographic created by alternative news website Prachatai

Protest against the ‘undemocratic’ constitution

But even before the NRC vote took place, many activists and scholars had criticized the draft constitution. The Thai Lawyers for Human Rights Group pointed out that the drafting process of the constitution was not legitimate. It emphasized that the document was drafted without a public referendum or approval from people’s representatives. Members of the CDC do not represent the public since they were merely appointed by the military.

Concerning the content of the draft charter, the group cited a provision which allows for the appointment of civil servants through a ‘moral system’ which has been vaguely defined. There's also article 45, which only grants limited protection to residents without citizenship. The group added that the draft constitution limits the political participation of citizens as well as the roles of people’s representatives. For instance, the proposed charter does not require the prime minister to be a member of Parliament as two-thirds of the Lower House are allowed to nominate any citizen for the position.

The draft constitution also proposes the creation of a powerful National Strategic Committee for Reform and Reconciliation (crisis panel) which will be given the mandate to veto laws passed by the Parliament. Moreover, this group can launch a ‘righteous’ coup and take over the government in case of a state of emergency or ‘special circumstance’. As expected, the crisis panel is an appointed body composed of military leaders, the president of the parliament, the prime minister, and experts.

Dr. Likit Teeravekin, professor of political science from Thammasat University, warns against this so-called crisis panel:

Article 280 grants immense power to the Guardians, meaning that election will simply be meaningless.

Worajet Pakeerat, another professor of Thammasat, describes the said provision as a threat to democracy:

This draft constitution will eventually establish a mechanism which will sustain the power of undemocratic entities over the democratic ones.

A few days before the NRC voting session, activists from the anti-junta group called Resistant Citizen held a protest in Bangkok and urged the people to ‘Vote No’ against the draft constitution if a referendum were to take place.

Protest poster inviting the people to reject the 2015 draft constitution. The person in the poster is former army chief and now Prime Minister Prayut. Photo from the Facebook page of Democracy Student Group

Protest poster inviting the people to reject the 2015 draft constitution. The person in the poster is former army chief and now Prime Minister Prayut. Photo from the Facebook page of Democracy Student Group

Whether a new draft constitution will be approved or rejected this year, what is clear is that the military will continue to stay in power while reforms are held in abeyance.

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