Long road to a phony democracy

Long road to a phony democracy

The "extra question" to be attached to the charter referendum can be a game-changer -- it has laid bare the military regime's attempt to go the extra mile in prolonging its power after the election.

Now the draft charter is complete, the military regime's vision for the future of Thai politics is pretty clear.

The future is now. The assertion may invoke a calm, Zen-like feeling but the connotation surely does not.

What the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), which promised Thais a return to happiness and democracy when it seized power two years ago, seeks to establish is a system of governance that is similar to what we have at present.

In other words, we are going to have a Prayut-style regime for the next five to 20 years, except this time it will be legitimised by an election.

The Senate, which will account for half the parliament, will be wholly selected by a panel appointed by the NCPO.

For that reason, it will answer to the military leaders and serve them when it comes to legislation -- just like the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) does at present.

If the top brass have their way and manage to have the question of whether the appointed Senate should be allowed to vote to select a prime minister endorsed at the charter referendum, it is possible we could even end up with the same Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha as our next prime minister.

The military regime's attempt to go the whole nine yards in its latest political manoeuvre is not without risks.

For some reason, however, it seems confident it can garner enough votes to carry the draft charter through to victory at the Aug 7 referendum.

Despite opposition from the two main political parties, Pheu Thai and the Democrats, which together won more than 26 million party list votes out of 46 million eligible voters in the 2011 election, Gen Prayut expressed confidence yesterday that he enjoys a "considerable" support base.

Even if the draft charter fails at the public vote, the regime seems convinced it will be resilient enough to withstand a backlash and push the country through to an election and a semi-democracy that it will set up through whatever charter it picks up for the purpose.

The NCPO may have a trump card hidden somewhere which gives it the assurance that it will somehow win the day. For now, however, the regime's attempt to go all the way with the undemocratic roadmap could put it in an isolated position.

The NCPO estranged some members of the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) when it proposed the Senate be wholly selected by a panel it appointed instead of by diverse professional groups as originally suggested by the drafters.

It's true the CDC finally bowed to the top brass's demand without much resistance. But it had been established the military regime wants much more direct control in administrative mechanisms and future politics than what the charter drafters would rather allow.

There are surely some people out there who think in the same vein as the CDC. They may have supported a temporary seizure of power by the military regime but not necessarily an autocratic system of administration on a permanent basis.

The extra question that the coup-appointed NLA approved to be attached to the charter referendum reaffirms the impression the military regime is going for a winners-take-all approach.

The NCPO has not hidden its desire for the Senate to have the right to vote to select the prime minister and to censure the government. It evidently wants the extra question to be approved in the referendum, which will force the CDC to revise its draft.

There is no doubt, however, that the extra question's approval will be a major rub on democratic principles. It will simply be unfair to allow senators who will be handpicked by a few people to vote to select the prime minister just like MPs who represent voters.

Worse, considering its number, the Senate will likely have the majority by default. If it is endowed with the extra power, the Senate will run the show while MPs will become mere decorative plants in parliament.

Some people are amused the draft charter and the extra question have prompted arch political rivals, the Democrats and Pheu Thai, to strike the same chord in their disapproval.

The concerted resistance, however, could signal the NCPO may run into more challenges as it seeks to entrench its power after the election.


Atiya Achakulwisut is Contributing Editor, Bangkok Post.

Atiya Achakulwisut

Columnist for the Bangkok Post

Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.

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