Thailand heads for Guinness record with upcoming referendum

Thailand could enter the Guinness Book of World
Records next month for holding the world’s first referendum to pass a
constitution after giving the population less than a month to prepare
for it, Thai academics say.

On Aug 19, the Thai people will
decide in a national referendum whether to accept a new charter drafted
by the military-appointed Constitution Drafting Assembly (CDF).

The
assembly, which finished drafting Thailand’s latest constitution June
28, will distribute 19 million copies of the document to 19 million
families nationwide by July 19 and will commence educating the public
on the contents of the charter as of July 31, said Kiatchai Pongpanich,
a member of the CDF.

The Constitution Drafting Assembly will have
only 19 days to inform the public about the new constitution, a lengthy
and complex document containing 339 articles.

The referendum,
Thailand’s first, was required under an interim constitution put in
place by the military junta that staged the Sep 19, 2006 coup that
toppled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

‘This is the first
time in the world that there will be a referendum to accept a
constitution,’ said Siripon Nogsuan, a political scientist at
Chulalongkorn University.

‘The Guinness Book of World Records can
say we have been given the shortest time to study the longest
constitution,’ Siripon told a seminar. ‘No country can hold a
referendum in such a short period on such a long document. In Europe, a
referendum would require two to six months to study the issue
beforehand.’

Siripon was echoing concerns raised by many
political scientists and diplomats based in Thailand, that the current
military-appointed government has not provided enough time to inform
the public about the new constitution, which has been widely criticized
for weakening the political party system.

‘We realize that this
is quite a short time frame for the public to go through 339 articles
of the final draft but the interim constitution stipulates that not
less than 15 days or more than 30 days should be spent scrutinizing the
draft,’ said Kiatchai.

If the new constitution – Thailand’s 18th
since a clique of Young Turk military officers overthrew the absolute
monarchy in 1932 – is approved by referendum, Thailand is expected to
hold an election by November or December, this year.

If it is voted down, an election will still be held, although the time frame will be less certain.

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