Thailand needs a new constitution free from fear
Fear of the future
In the entire history of the world, human beings have come up with some pretty outrageous ideas, like the man who solved the problem of his low ceiling by chopping off his legs. In my view, the Constitution Drafting Committee's (CDC) so-called crisis committee, inserted in the draft constitution, is a far worse idea. The Borwornsak draft constitution has hit a new low, because the crisis committee will essentially attempt to institutionalise military coups. It will seek to legitimise the illegitimate and make lawful what is inherently unlawful, which is an abomination to the very concept and study of law. It is nothing less than constitutional heresy!
At first glance the crisis committee seems like a novel idea. But it's not. Every family has a crisis committee of one form or another. In my family, my children refer to it as "Mum and Dad!". All liberal democracies also have their own version of a crisis committee, called the Supreme Court. And yes, even Thailand has something that should function along these lines. It's called the Constitutional Court.
The court's sole purpose is to be the final arbiter on matters pertaining to constitutional law. Its primary function is to deliberate whether "actions" by individuals, corporations or state agencies are in conflict with constitutionally established rights and freedoms. In essence, our Constitutional Court judges should be the last line of defence against an elected prime minister that abuses his popular mandate, or an army chief that seizes power via a coup d'etat. If the court doesn't have the courage to defend the letter and spirit of the constitution against the powerful and almighty, then what is it there for?
A crisis committee cannot consist of faceless bureaucrats and military generals. A true "crisis committee" should consist of a panel of impartial judges that have the courage and fortitude to say "no" to all powerful entities that think they can bulldoze over our established constitutional rights and freedoms.
As constitutions go, this draft is probably the most uninspiring document in the history of written constitutions. Why would I level this accusation? Well, because it's a constitution drafted from fear. Fear of change, fear of modernisation, fear of Thaksin, fear of politicians and worst of all, fear of ordinary people. A constitution is a document that should be uplifting and empowering and each syllable should be able to emotionally connect with the hopes and aspirations of all members of Thai society. This constitution sees the worst in all of us. It's a pessimistic constitution that reeks of paternalistic tendencies. We can, and must do better than this.
I'm basically an optimist. I'm trying to see the goodness in people. I can see that the National Reform Council, the CDC, the military junta and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha have some legitimate concerns about Thailand's future development.
When the prime minister insists that our monarchy is a vital part of our culture and society and must be protected, I'm in total agreement; he's preaching to the choir. But in my view, I fail to see how handing out jail sentences of 60 years under Section 112 is beneficial to our sacred institution. Even Ravina Shamdasani, the spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has recently expressed serious concerns over this issue.
Putting the fear of God into people is doing a grave disservice to the great legacy of His Majesty the King. Most of us have spent all our lives living under the reign of this King. I have never once witnessed His Majesty practising, exhibiting, implementing, or indeed encouraging the use of devices of fear among his subjects.
The monarchy derives its most potent source of power and legitimacy from the gratitude and respect of all 67 million Thais. It is a force for unity not division, optimism not pessimism, but more importantly, love not fear. Protecting the monarchy is not a zero sum game. Defending the monarchy doesn't mean we have to cast aside our respect for the human rights of others; on the contrary, they go hand in hand.
Thai society over the last 30 years has changed by leaps and bounds. All our institutions must learn to adapt to change. We are a middle-income country with a growing and aspiring middle class. Our rural communities have breathed the air of democracy and are just about to understand their role in a more free and open society.
Thai businesses are gaining confidence and are seeking more fruitful investment opportunities in neighbouring countries. And the next generation of Thais are desperately looking for forward-thinking, capable and inspirational leaders that they can emulate. Let's not have fear determine our future.
Reconciliation takes courage. The courage to listen, to understand, and to be honest with ourselves. But most important of all, we need the courage to make peace. And yes, at the end of the day: "You can only make peace with your enemies."
Songkran Grachangnetara is an entrepreneur. He graduated from The London School of Economics and Columbia University. He can be reached at Twitter: @SongkranTalk
Songkran Grachangnetara is an entrepreneur. He graduated from The London School of Economics and Columbia University.