Referendum, really a piece of cake?
"A piece of cake!" a confident former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra told his adoring red-shirt followers when he described how easy it would be to get the people's approval in the planned referendum on rewriting the entire constitution during his video-linked address at Khao Yai last weekend.
- Published: 28/12/2012 at 11:30 AM
- Newspaper section: topstories
In fact, Thaksin used the Thai term "moo-moo" (pig-pig) in reference to getting the 24 million to 25 million voters who must cast ballots in the referendum for approval for a total charter rewrite. It refers to being easily lead.
Probably due to a lack of communication, Thaksin's wish for the referendum to go ahead caught the co-leaders of the red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) with their pants down. Jatuporn Prompan, one of the red-shirt key leaders, told the crowd not long before Thaksin chipped in that the UDD would pressure the government to ram the constitutional amendment bill through the third reading of the parliament.
The bill which seeks to create a charter drafting assembly has been stalled in the parliament since mid-year, after it went through the first and second readings.
Fugitive former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra (Bloomberg photo)
Despite Thaksin’s extreme confidence of getting with ease the 24 million to 25 million votes needed for a charter rewrite, several Pheu Thai Party members and red-shirt co-leaders are not convinced.
A former leader of Thai Rak Thai (a predecessor of the Pheu Thai Party), Jaturon Chaisaeng, suggested that the government press ahead with the charter amendments bill regardless of the likelihood that Thaksin’s political opponents will, once again, challenge the move in the Constitution Court. His view was shared by UDD co-leaders Weng Tojirakan and Jatuporn Prompan among others.
Opponents to the referendum among the Pheu Thai membership and the red-shirt movement maintained that it is impossible, or near-impossible, to get the needed votes in the referendum. In the last general election the winning Pheu Thai Party managed to get only about 15 million votes.
So where will the 10 million additional votes come from in the referendum? This is the big question and they still do not have the answer, which is their main concern for the referendum to go ahead. But, despite misgivings, they are too submissive or too timid to question Thaksin about how and where he can get the additional votes.
The government has set up a panel to study the referendum option and to make preparations for the referendum, which include a publicity campaign informing the public about the referendum which is tentatively scheduled for May.
Unless Thaksin has second thoughts about the referendum, the process will go ahead. In which case it will become clear whether getting the referendum approved is “just a piece of cake”, or “moo-moo”, as boasted by Thaksin - or if it proves to be a "tough nut to crack”.
As for Thaksin, the referendum will be a test of the popularity of the government, the Pheu Thai Party and, most important of all, of his own following and strength.
But it is still a win-win exercise for all of them, as they can always fall back to amending the charter section by section as strongly advocated by Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung if they fail to get the required votes in the referendum. The only tangible loss is the two billion baht of taxpapers' money spent staging the referendum. Taxpayers’ money - not the government's money.
Back to the charter itself, is it that bad, really that undemocratic or dictatorial -- as charged by the red-shirts, Pheu Thai and Thaksin? I don’t think so, although I agree that some of the sections need to be amended - such as party dissolution due to the illegal activities of just one of its executive committee members, and the selection of senators. But it was approved by a referendum.
The independent organisations such as the Constitution Court, the Election Commission and National Anti-Corruption Commission - all of which Pheu Thai, the UDD and Thaksin want to overhaul or neutralise - must be kept, to serve as a counterbalance to abuses by politicians.
There is no need to rewrite the entire charter. It would not benefit the public in general, only a few individuals.
About the author
- Writer: Veera Prateepchaikul
- Position: Former Editor