When Thailand’s National Reform Council votes on a new charter September 6, the key question will be about whether to keep the army in power indefinitely.
Bangkok (dpa) – On September 6, a military-appointed reform council will meet to either endorse a new draft of the constitution or to vote it down, in a decision that could have far-ranging implications for the country’s future.
If endorsed, the charter will be put to a referendum and see Thailand begin a transition back toward democracy as early as next year.
If it is voted down, the motion could see the ruling military junta hold onto power indefinitely.
Even though the council is due to deliberate the constitution before voting, analysts agree that the vote is more about keeping the military in power than on the merits of the proposed charter.
“[The drafting process] is a junta-designed process [with] mostly military-appointed bodies, including the Constitutional Drafting Committee and the National Reform Council,” political commentator Saksith Saiyasombut said.
“So this veneer of free choice is still a limited one.”
The military have so far refused to weigh in on the debate, saying that reform council members “were free to voice their opinion” with the added caveat that there be no public debates or campaigns over the constitution.
“The constitution-drafting process may be just a sideshow,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute for Security and International Studies at Chulalongkorn University.
“The main show is that the ruling generals are likely to remain in power indefinitely.”
Several members of the council have dropped the pretense of voting on the merits of the constitution completely, and are calling on their fellows to vote against it so the military can remain in power.
Wanchai Sonsiri, a council member and lawyer, has publicly said that he would vote nay because reforms were not yet complete, and that process must be carried out by the military.
Council member Paiboon Nititawan said he was “putting together a coalition” to vote against the draft charter.
Paiboon said the junta should in power for at least two more years to reform the political system and ease tensions among rival factions.
But even if the constitution is approved, it was written not to “promote popular representation and rule” but to “shift power and authority away from elected representation,” according to Thitinan.
That is because of the existence of a “crisis committee” clause, said Pavich Supapipat, an analyst at political advisory firm Vriens & Partners.
The draft constitution calls for the creation of such a committee – comprised of the commanders of the Army, Navy, Air Force and National Police and an appointed panel of “experts” – which “would be allowed to intervene in politics at any time.”
The existence of the emergency clause has forced both main political parties to come out against the constitution, even if it means extending military rule for the foreseeable future.
Abhisit Vejjajiva, leader of the former opposition and aligned with street protesters that brought down the previous government, publicly called for the council members to reject the draft.
He argued that the emergency clause is undemocratic, and would lead to more problems and conflicts than it would solve.
The Pheu Thai party, whose government was ousted by the May 2014 military coup, also called for the constitution to be voted down, because it would “perpetuate the powers of the military” and “weaken a democratically elected government.”
“Whatever the fate of the draft charter, the junta’s rule will be prolonged,” Chulalongkorn University’s Thitinan said.