ANALYSIS: Thailand 18th constitution a must read

MonstersandCritics.com

By Peter Janssen
Jul 26, 2007, 3:55 GMT

var PageContent= ‘ Bangkok – At the end of this month some 19 million Thais will have been given a brand new book to puzzle over, and it\’s not a copy of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Thailand’s military-appointed Constitution Drafting Committee has pledged to distribute 19 million copies of their recently completed charter to households nationwide by July 31 in preparation for the country’s first-ever referendum to endorse a constitution.

The kingdom’s 19 million eligible voters will have 18 days to study the 186-page draft constitution with its 309 articles before voting on August 19 to pass or reject it. Some say this is too little time to study such an important and lengthy piece of legislation.

‘No country can hold a referendum in such a short period on such a long document,’ Siripon Nogsuan, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn University, told a recent seminar.

But this is Thailand, where constitutions come and go at a rapid rate. Thailand has had altogether 17 constitutions since 1932 when a triumvirate of Young Turk military officers put an end to the absolute monarchy and launched the Asian nation on its long and torturous road to democracy.

Since 1932 there have also been more than 17 military coups, the latest of which took place on September 19, 2006, resulting in the revoking of what many deemed Thailand’s best constitution to date – the 1997 charter.

The 1997 constitution was drafted to solve Thailand’s seemingly endless succession of military coups followed by weak coalition governments whose corrupt and fractious ways inevitably led to more coups.

The decade-old charter strengthened the role of the prime minister, favoured the establishment of large political parties and put in place a host of ‘independent’ bodies that were supposed to guarantee clean and fair elections and accountable elected politicians.

What the 1997 charter failed to foresee was the rise of Thaksin Shinawatra, a telecommunications tycoon whose 2 billion dollar family fortune equated to 1 per cent of Thailand’s gross domestic product.

In the country’s entrenched system of money politics Thaksin’s money, combined with a certain charisma and successful populist policies, allowed him and his Thai Rak Thai party to monopolize power between 2001 to 2006 and to undermine the 1997 charter’s checks and balances.

‘Thaksin was a superman who flew through all the loopholes of the 1997 constitution and manipulated everything,’ said Kiatchai Pongpanich, a drafter of the new charter. ‘What we thought was a way out became a dead end,’ said Kiatchai.

Unfortunately, the new draft constitution on which the Thai public must vote on August 19, looks like another dead end to many.

While the 1997 charter gave too much power to the political parties, the 2007 one has taken too much away, its critics claim.

For instance, under the 1997 constitution all 200 senators were elected. Under the 2007 draft charter, 76 senators will be elected and another 74 will be appointed by a body of senior bureaucrats.

The Senate, which has the power to impeach, will have considerable clout over the fully elected Lower House.

The election system under the 2007 charter arguably favours small politicians rather than big parties with national platforms, making a weak coalition government the likely outcome of the next election, scheduled for either November or December of this year.

Of course, the Thai people can reject the 2007 charter in the August 19 referendum.

Since the document is clearly anti-Thaksin in spirit, it is reasonable to suppose that the 16 million Thais who voted for Thaksin\’s Thai Rak Thai party in the 2005 polls will oppose the new constitution.

But if they reject it, Thailand’s junta has retained the right to select one of the country’s 17 past constitutions as the country\’s functioning interim charter. Unless they choose the 1997 copy, any older charter is deemed a step backwards for political freedoms.

The military has also placed soldiers in every village nationwide to assure the referendum is a success.

Then too, Thai voters are notoriously fickle and Thaksin’s aura may have faded somewhat in the countryside during his past 11 months in exile abroad, despite his efforts to stay in the news through the purchase of the Manchester City British football club.

‘Thais will sympathize with the loser but side with the winner,’ acknowledged Jakrapob Penkair, a former government spokesman for Thaksin and now a leader of the anti-coup movement.

Ultimately, on August 19, some 19 million Thais will vote for their preferred version of democracy.

‘There are three versions of democracy being contested here,’ opined Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of Thailand’s Institute of Security and International Studies.

‘One is the elitist version of democracy, which we have now. Another is the Thaksin democracy, that\’s been overthrown. And then there is the elusive one, which is a genuine people\s democracy that would be the 1997 constitution minus Thaksin,’ said Thitinan.

When will the third version materialize? Maybe let’s wait for Thailand’s 19th constitution.

 

Bangkok – At the end of this month some 19 million Thais will have been given a brand new book to puzzle over, and it’s
not a copy of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Thailand’s military-appointed Constitution Drafting Committee has pledged to distribute 19 million copies of their recently completed
charter to households nationwide by July 31 in preparation for the country’s first-ever referendum to endorse a constitution.

The kingdom’s 19 million eligible voters will have 18 days to study the 186-page draft constitution with its 309 articles before voting on
August 19 to pass or reject it. Some say this is too little time to study such an important and lengthy piece of legislation.

‘No country can hold a referendum in such a short period on such a long document,’ Siripon Nogsuan, a political scientist at Chulalongkorn
University, told a recent seminar.

But this is Thailand, where constitutions come and go at a rapid rate. Thailand has had altogether 17 constitutions since 1932 when a triumvirate of Young Turk
military officers put an end to the absolute monarchy and launched the Asian nation on its long and torturous road to democracy.

Since 1932 there have also been more than 17 military coups, the latest of which took place on September 19, 2006, resulting in the revoking of
what many deemed Thailand’s best constitution to date – the 1997 charter.

The 1997 constitution was drafted to solve Thailand’s seemingly endless succession of military coups followed by
weak coalition governments whose corrupt and fractious ways inevitably led to more coups.

The decade-old charter strengthened the role of the prime minister, favoured the establishment of large
political parties and put in place a host of ‘independent’ bodies that were supposed to guarantee clean and fair elections and accountable
elected politicians.

What the 1997 charter failed to foresee was the rise of Thaksin Shinawatra, a telecommunications tycoon whose 2
billion dollar family fortune equated to 1 per cent of Thailand’s gross domestic product.

In the country’s entrenched system of money politics Thaksin’s money, combined with a certain charisma and
successful populist policies, allowed him and his Thai Rak Thai party to monopolize power between 2001 to 2006 and to undermine the 1997
charter’s checks and balances.

‘Thaksin was a superman who flew through all the loopholes of the 1997 constitution and manipulated
everything,’ said Kiatchai Pongpanich, a drafter of the new charter. ‘What we thought was a way out became a dead end,’ said Kiatchai.

Unfortunately, the new draft constitution on which the Thai public must vote on August 19, looks like another dead end to many.

While the 1997 charter gave too much power to the political parties, the 2007
one has taken too much away, its critics claim.

For instance, under the 1997 constitution all 200 senators were elected. Under the 2007 draft charter, 76 senators will be elected and another 74 will be
appointed by a body of senior bureaucrats.

The Senate, which has the power to impeach, will have considerable clout over the fully elected Lower House.

The election system under the 2007 charter arguably favours small politicians rather than big parties with national platforms, making a
weak coalition government the likely outcome of the next election, scheduled for either November or December of this year.

Of course, the Thai people can reject the 2007 charter in the August 19 referendum.

Since the document is clearly anti-Thaksin in spirit, it is reasonable to suppose that the 16 million Thais who voted for Thaksin’s Thai Rak
Thai party in the 2005 polls will oppose the new constitution.

But if they reject it, Thailand’s junta has retained the right to select one of the country’s 17 past constitutions as the country’s
functioning interim charter. Unless they choose the 1997 copy, any older charter is deemed a step backwards for political freedoms.

The military has also placed soldiers in every village nationwide to assure the referendum is a success.

Then too, Thai voters are notoriously fickle and Thaksin’s aura may have faded somewhat in the countryside during his past 11 months in
exile abroad, despite his efforts to stay in the news through the purchase of the Manchester City British football club.

‘Thais will sympathize with the loser but side with the winner,’ acknowledged Jakrapob Penkair, a former government spokesman for Thaksin and now a
leader of the anti-coup movement.

Ultimately, on August 19, some 19 million Thais will vote for their preferred version of democracy.

‘There are three versions of democracy being contested here,’ opined Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of Thailand’s Institute of Security and
International Studies.

‘One is the elitist version of democracy, which we have now. Another is the Thaksin democracy, that’s been overthrown. And then there is the elusive one, which is a genuine people’s democracy that would be the 1997 constitution minus Thaksin,’
said Thitinan.

When will the third version materialize? Maybe let’s wait for Thailand’s 19th constitution.

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