Charter will create hollow democracy
In the country where a coup was renamed a "return of happiness" and arbitrary detention an "attitude adjustment session", it is just a natural progression for its constitution and ensuing general election to end up becoming a sham.
The Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) is set to unveil the final draft of the charter to the public Tuesday. Why bother? What can the public do to the draft? We have not been consulted from the start. Our views and opinions will not matter now that the drafting process has ended.
For the public show-off, the charter writers who were appointed by the coup makers will likely boast that its draft is a blueprint to fight against corruption as it has done over the past six months.
The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) and government will claim that the new draft offers a new political deal in which elected politicians will be prevented from bringing the country to the brink yet again since they will be under the custodianship of appointed senators and bureaucrats working through independent agencies.
The public will surely be allowed to admire the draft charter's grand design and function of its mechanisms. But it's there that their role will end.
The NCPO has dictated the content of the draft charter. It made it clear it wanted a wholly appointed Senate. It also wanted armed forces and police chiefs to become senators by default. It suggested to the CDC that a non-elected outsider be allowed to serve as prime minister. Guess what? Despite opposition from politicians and academics, the military regime had all its wishes come true. The CDC caved in to almost all of the NCPO's suggestions except to the request to allow the Senate censure the government.
It is no exaggeration to say that the new draft charter reflects nothing but the military regime's visions and political aspirations. It was written by people selected by the junta and is set to be approved by its own appointees in the government and National Legislative Assembly. The Thai public has now become little more than spectators to the process.
It's true there will be a public referendum. But think about it and we may see that the public vote, set for Aug 7, has been so conditioned it sounds like a joke.
The NCPO said that the public will be free to vote and the rule is a simple majority but it also said they should bear in mind they may get a new constitution that is tougher on democracy if they reject this one.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is authorised by the provisional charter to pick any constitution from the past for use if the draft charter fails to be approved.
How fair is this? If people are not deluding themselves, they will see that the charter referendum is more like an offer from Don Corleone of The Godfather. You are told you may reject this draft but if you do so you will receive a new one that is even worse.
If this is not a bluff, a scam or a sham charter referendum, what should it be called?
Now the military regime has finally revealed that its roadmap to peace means the country will have to come under the top brass's control for another five to 20 years, the general election and democracy that Thai people have been promised is likely to exist only in name.
With the draft constitution designed to produce a weak, coalition administration through a complex electoral system and powerful independent agencies including a new national strategy committee that will have authority over the elected government, what will the poll be but a political travesty?
In a nutshell, people will get to vote and poll winners will get to set up a government, but the government will not be allowed to fully run the country.
Whoever wins the next election will be entitled to do routine administrative work but the country's main development agenda will still be in the hands of the top brass through the Senate and the new strategy committee to be chaired by Gen Prayut that will chart the country's development for the next 20 years.
With absolute power in their hands, the military regime will now insist that this system of bureaucrat-and-military-guided government is actually democratic. It will even have us believe that this camouflaged democracy is good for the country since many Thais don't know any better than to sell votes and fall for false, populist promises that end up ruining the country.
The past two years should have informed us what the return of happiness and reform would become. It should be enough to foretell where the roadmap to democracy will end.
Atiya Achakulwisut is Contributing Editor, Bangkok Post.
Columnist for the Bangkok Post
Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.