New charter may not be democratic

New charter may not be democratic

In this Nov 17 photo, a group of anti-government demonstrators clashes with riot police near the parliament building as a debate on charter rewrite is under way. Wichan Charoenkiatpakul
In this Nov 17 photo, a group of anti-government demonstrators clashes with riot police near the parliament building as a debate on charter rewrite is under way. Wichan Charoenkiatpakul

Today marks Thailand's Constitution Day, arguably one of the most forgotten political dates in national history.

Dec 10 is designated as Constitution Day in recognition of the first complete charter bestowed by King Rama VII in 1932 following the "Siamese Revolution" -- a coup d'etat staged by a group of young elites under the name Khana Ratsadorn -- on June 24 which resulted in a change from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy. Before Dec 10, 1932, there was an interim charter that was enacted on June 27.

Since 1932, the country has had 20 charters in 89 years, or one every four years. Most of the changes resulted from coups d'etat, totalling 13 which attests to the fact that the elites did not want to relinquish their power. The current supreme law drafted by a military-appointed panel under Meechai Ruchupan was enforced on April 6, 2017.

This very day casts into the limelight the ongoing efforts of the charter rewrite process which has raised hopes among many of being a solution to the deep political crisis in the post-coup era. But the process is a far cry from being smooth. Some elements, particularly the powers that be, want to maintain the status quo, a contentious wish made possible by the charter. Boisterous rallies by pro-reform demonstrators have forced those in power to compromise. Civic society also pushed for its own version that it has touted as the people's draft.

Yet, the charter rewrite process has faced several stumbling blocks. For instance, members, mostly of the ruling Palang Pracharath Party teamed up with military-leaning senators to derail the process as they argued that the formation of the charter drafting panel in accordance with Section 256 of the supreme law was unconstitutional.

The escalating tension causes concerns there might be a coup to suppress the dissidents and to halt the charter rewrite process.

But even if there is no open intervention, there could be difficulties imposed by old-power elements. For example, the government may push for a 200-strong charter drafting panel, partially through appointment, instead of elections as demanded by the people's sector. In that case, the new charter may not be democratic and will hardly be a desirable solution to the crisis.

But as a matter of principle, the charter drafting must be inclusive.

The new charter must value democratic principles.

The formation of the charter drafting panel must also be transparent, with its composition representing all career groups, and differing parties, with a mission to create fair rule, ruling out the possibility of the military maintaining its influence.

The process must be based on people's participation, while a referendum must be without manipulation in any way.

The goal is to create a people's charter, with democratic content, and no military shadow. If this doesn't happen, there will be no hope of the new charter solving the political crisis.

It's expected that there will be two referendums: the first after the third reading is completed before the formation of the charter drafting panel, and the second after the draft is complete. It's vital that the referendum allows people to voice their views, without any kind of threats or harassment, unlike the one for the 2017 charter, which effectively tainted the current supreme law.

Chairith Yonpiam is assistant news editor, Bangkok Post.

Chairith Yonpiam

Assistant news editor

Chairith Yonpiam is assistant news editor, Bangkok Post.

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