Print
Rate this article
(no votes)
 (0 votes)
Share this article
Anastasia Belyaeva

Diplomat, scholar in Asian Studies (at the Institute of Asian and African Studies, Lomonosov Moscow State University) and an expert on Thailand

On August 7, 2016, the people of Thailand voted in favour of a new constitution that democratically empowers the military junta which came to power after a coup in 2014. Despite the sceptical attitude of the observers and human rights NGOs, it appears that public opinion did indeed arrive at a consensus: over 61 per cent of voters supported the package of reforms to be implemented over the next 20 years, as well as giving the highest ranks of the ruling military the right to appoint the senate and, most likely, the prime minister as well.

On August 7, 2016, the people of Thailand voted in favour of a new constitution that democratically empowers the military junta which came to power after a coup in 2014. Despite the sceptical attitude of the observers and human rights NGOs, it appears that public opinion did indeed arrive at a consensus: over 61 per cent of voters supported the package of reforms to be implemented over the next 20 years, as well as giving the highest ranks of the ruling military the right to appoint the senate and, most likely, the prime minister as well.

On August 7, 2016, Thailand held a referendum on the draft of yet another constitution, the 19th since absolute monarchy was abolished in 1932.

Over 61 per cent of the voters supported the new draft proposed by the military government, which came to power after a bloodless coup, with almost 39 per cent voting against it.

The authors of the draft believe that the current constitution does not reflect the greater part of the civil needs of the population, and the current political system has outlived its usefulness. At the same time, the executive branch is infected with corruption and nepotism, and the ambiguous socioeconomic measures taken by previous governments led to deep divisions in Thai society and the irreconcilable stances assumed by the representatives of various political camps.

Еhe citizens of Thailand voted in favour of the military appointing the entire upper house (the Senate).


Dario Pignatelli/Bloomberg
Ekaterina Koldunova:
Yingluck Shinawatra’s Impeachment: Deja Vu
in Thai Politics

Among the principal improvements in the draft constitution are several socioeconomic reforms that form the basis of the 20-year national reform strategy created by the Prime Minister of Thailand, former Army commander General Prayut Chan-o-cha. The strategy covers a wide range of reforms aimed at creating a more transparent governmental model, granting additional rights and freedoms to vulnerable groups and eliminating corruption.

At the same time, it appears that for the majority of Thai people, the most important aspect of the draft constitution is the state apparatus reform. This means legitimizing the military’s control over the country’s potential government and extending their mandate for an indefinite period: the citizens of Thailand voted in favour of the military appointing the entire upper house (the Senate), which includes 250 senators (previously, only 125 were appointed). The House of Representatives will continue to be elected by the people, but it will be carefully controlled by the Senate, which has the power of veto concerning amendments to the constitution proposed by the lower chamber. Also, additional mechanisms will be created to control the so-called “independent” organizations.

Another significant difference from the previous constitution is that a prime minister may be appointed if he or she has united support from both chambers. What is more, it is not a requirement for the prime minister to be selected from among the current deputies or senators. Many see this step as creating the legislative basis for Prayut Chan-o-cha to stay on as prime minister even after “the country returns to democracy.” This was the second question on the ballot, and over 58 per cent of the population voted in favour of it.

New proportionate voting system will create obstacles for large parties to receive the majority of seats in parliament.

Now, that the voice of the people has been heard, Item 1 on the agenda of the Constitution Drafting Committee is the development of ten foundational articles on the basic mechanisms for the functioning of the political system; if they are successfully introduced, it will be possible to hold popular elections, which could be held as soon as November 2017.

At the same time, the new legislation is expected to create difficulties for the registration and functioning of political parties and will call for them to be disbanded, reformed, reorganized, etc., which could easily lead to the parties splitting into smaller groups or disappearing altogether. The new proportionate voting system will create obstacles for large parties to receive the majority of seats in parliament. Consequently, there will be limited opportunities to form a strong coalition.

REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
Ekaterina Koldunova:
Military “non-coup” in Thailand and its aftermath

The people of Thailand have voluntarily agreed to what is essentially a semi-authoritarian regime, which has caused genuine surprise among local and international observers, NGOs and diplomats. Various human rights organizations have noted that, during the electoral campaign, attempts by some activist groups to speak out against the referendum were suppressed rather harshly by the authorities. Although they started tightening the screws even before that: immediately after they came to power in 2014, the military junta banned public assemblies of more than five people, and in April 2016, the Resolution on the Referendum was signed, and 195 people were charged with breaking it, the consequences being as severe as a ten-year prison sentence. At the same time, pro-government propaganda for participating in the referendum was very active.

That said, the results of the referendum mean that the Thai people are relatively united in their support of the gradual and controlled return to a democratic regime, even if it is closely monitored by the military junta.

Thai people are relatively united in their support of the gradual and controlled return to a democratic regime, even if it is closely monitored by the military junta.

Let us not forget that the Royal Thai Armed Forces headed by Prayut Chan-o-cha came into power in May 2014 during a prolonged political crisis with the aim of restoring order and putting an end to the violence and the endless quarrels between the supporters and opponents of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his family.

Mr. Shinawatra first came to power in the early 2000s; he and his party, Thai Rak Thai, were popular in the densely populated northern and north-eastern provinces of the country. In 2006, following a military coup, he was removed from power and he still resides abroad (at home, he has been sentenced to two years in prison for abuse of power), and his party was disbanded pursuant to a decision of the Constitutional Court. In 2008, the military transferred power to the opposition Democratic Party of Thailand before the Pheu Thai Party, the successor to Thai Rak Thai, won a landslide victory in the 2011 parliamentary elections. The party was headed by Thaksin Shinawatra’s younger sister, Yingluck Shinawatra.

REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Ekaterina Koldunova:
Thailand: Pandora’s Box

The Shinawatra family returned to power. The 40-year-old businesswoman (whom sceptics called a puppet in the hands of her older brother, and not without reason), who was making her first foray into politics, was faced with a series of challenging events, including a horrific flood in 2011 and its disastrous consequences, continued terrorist attacks in the south of the country close to the border with Malaysia, and most importantly, the popular discontent expressed in months-long rallies and clashes between pro- and anti-governmental forces which paralyzed the central streets of Bangkok and other cities. This all had an extremely negative impact on Thailand’s image as a tourist destination, and business suffered too. Ultimately, when the political crisis peaked, the military took control of the country and removed the legally elected government from power.

In this context, the questions on the ballot papers at the August referendum appear quite logical: the highest ranks of the military, among other things, most likely want to bar the Shinawatra family and its possible successors from acquiring power for a long time; that would include barring the political parties the family created, which, under different names, won all the parliamentary elections from 2001 onwards. The junta banned ex-Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra from politics for five years, and there are reasons to believe that the term will be extended.

The highest ranks of the military, among other things, most likely want to bar the Shinawatra family and its possible successors from acquiring power for a long time.

What looks paradoxical is that several items related to socioeconomic issues in the new draft constitution, in particular, education and health, are surprisingly similar to the populist electoral programmes of the Shinawatra-led parties in 2004–2011.

It is also noteworthy that the largest number of people who voted in favour of a new constitution live in the central and southern provinces, which have an educated urban population. That is, they represent the middle class, which is mightily tired of the political turbulence and which has apparently made a conscious choice in favour of extending the military’s power.

In a word, taking the major factors into account, it appears quite probable that the “hybrid” model of democracy in Thailand chosen by over half of the population will help the Thai leadership finally achieve the vaunted national reconciliation and stability (which has been the goal of every government since the exile of Thaksin Shinawatra) and end the lost political decade.

Rate this article
(no votes)
 (0 votes)
Share this article

Poll conducted

  1. Korean Peninsula Crisis Has no Military Solution. How Can It Be Solved?
    Demilitarization of the region based on Russia-China "Dual Freeze" proposal  
     36 (35%)
    Restoring multilateral negotiation process without any preliminary conditions  
     27 (26%)
    While the situation benefits Kim Jong-un's and Trump's domestic agenda, there will be no solution  
     22 (21%)
    Armed conflict still cannot be avoided  
     12 (12%)
    Stonger deterrence on behalf of the U.S. through modernization of military infrastructure in the region  
     4 (4%)
    Toughening economic sanctions against North Korea  
     2 (2%)
 
For business
For researchers
For students