The voters behind the referendum

The voters behind the referendum

The votes are in, the 'Yes' side won, while on the losing side there was disappointment but also determination to resume the battle for freedom of speech and a democratic election. (Reuters photo)
The votes are in, the 'Yes' side won, while on the losing side there was disappointment but also determination to resume the battle for freedom of speech and a democratic election. (Reuters photo)

Despite scare tactics deployed by the state, about 10 million voters refused to endorse the military-sponsored draft charter in the referendum.

Most of those slapping the draft with a "No" vote were those in the South, Northeast and some parts of the North.

With all the state mechanisms, approval of the draft had been anticipated, but the 62% vs 38% difference was perhaps beyond our grasp. The high percentage of the urban-middle class who voted for the less-democratic charter raised the eyebrows of diplomats and international NGOs.

A number of civil society organisations were disappointed with the results. Prior to the Sunday vote, community organisations and NGOs made their stance against the draft which they said would allow the military to prolong the indefinite and unaccountable control of a new government.

Yet, the triumph is not without doubts.

The Sunday referendum saw higher dud ballots -- over 700,000 compared with 500,000 in the previous referendum in 2007.

Discrepancies in balloting and counting, even unintentionally, were among issues of concern from independent observers.

And this is a far cry from victory for the National Council for Peace and Order and the Election Commission (EC) if we look at voter turnout which was much lower than the 70% goal. Some 27 million of the total 50 million eligible voters turned up at the polling booths.

The approval that came under a climate of fear is a factor that effectively challenges the legitimacy of this supreme law.

Among those who posed the challenge was political activist Piyarat Chongthep who tore up his ballot card in defiance of the military government.

In fact, the climate of fear has blanketed society, especially after the Public Referendum Act was enacted in late April. At least 195 people were arrested and prosecuted under this law, according to the Thai Lawyer for Human Rights, an organisation that has provided free legal aid to anti-junta activists since the coup.

Some of them faced additional charges for violating the NCPO order No 3/2558 which prohibits political gatherings of five persons or more.

The authorities banned at least 18 public talks or seminars on the referendum.

The latest victims of military silencing were two Dao Din activists, Jatupat Bunpatharaksa and Vasin Prommanee from Khon Kaen, who have been charged with violating the Referendum Act at Phukhieu Military Court in Chaiyaphum.

The referendum results show people in society still stand far apart. For Namtan, a staunch supporter of the People's Democratic Reform Committee, the Sunday vote was a good transition for the country.

This bank worker who is in her 40s said she voted in favour of both the draft and the extra question to allow an appointed Senate to join MPs in selecting a prime minister. She said her "yes" vote is one of approval for the Prayut government.

Another businessman in his mid-60s said he wanted continuity of the NCPO in running the country.

Suthakorn Vasupokin, a 52-year-old from Samut Prakan, an independent educator, said she voted for the draft that contains anti-corruption measures. Like Namtan, her vote is a show of support for the Prayut administration which impressed her with its efforts to boost the economy.

But she didn't vote for the Senate question. "Why should I give them too much power for too long?"

Pikul Promchan, a key witness in the high-profile Kalasin extra-judicial killing lawsuit, believed many voted for the charter because they are fed up with dirty politics.

"We just want to see concrete measures that could block criminalised electioneers and also advocate politicians with good governance," said Ms Pikul.

Jittra Cotshadet, a labour activist-cum-politician who campaigned for a referendum boycott, said the process was far from normal, citing the climate of fear.

"People felt insecure so they voted for the charter in the hope that it will help quicken the election process. Debates and campaigns were banned," she said, adding harsh measures, including arrests scared people away from joining public discussions.

People just wanted to see the referendum over, so they can get back to peace and normalcy, said the anti-junta activist.

Voting outside domiciles was also lower than in the past referendum, 323,604 compared to 2.64 million non-resident voters in 2007.

Ms Jittra feared that the NCPO victory would make the military government more arbitrary in exercising their power and under such a situation, many individual activists would keep a low profile.

Yet many still maintain their hopes and continue their fight against rights violations.

Chanoknan Ruamsap, a member of the New Democracy Movement, believed many voters made their choice without being fully informed as public debates were banned. A number of voters had not received the draft.

She believed the "yes" voters wanted to see a quick or on-schedule election, less corrupt politicians and were impressed with the regime, while the "no" camp, among them Pheu Thai supporters, detested dictatorship.

"Of course I'm disappointed but we will move on. It's not the first time we have lost. What we need is just one punch ... Just one loss for the dictators, and we can end military rule," said Ms Chanoknan.

Achara Ashayagachat

Senior reporter on socio-political issues

Bangkok Post's senior reporter on socio-political issues.

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