Democrat Party split on draft charter
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Democrat Party split on draft charter

PM Prayut brushes aside Abhisit's call for him to lead drafting of new charter if referendum vote fails

Things got a little more lonely for Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva after he announced Wednesday he intends to vote 'No' on Referendum Day. (Photo by Chanat Katanyu)
Things got a little more lonely for Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva after he announced Wednesday he intends to vote 'No' on Referendum Day. (Photo by Chanat Katanyu)

The Democrat Party is split over whether to vote for or against the draft constitution in the upcoming Aug 7 referendum as several party supporters disagree with the party leader's "Vote No" stance.

Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva's announcement that he will not accept the draft charter on Wednesday was given the cold shoulder by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who expressed confidence in the public being free to make its own decision on referendum day.

Gen Prayut also brushed aside Mr Abhisit's call that the prime minister lead the process to draw up a new constitution if the draft prepared by the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC) led by Meechai Ruchupan is shot down in the referendum vote.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon also said that even some of Mr Abhisit's supporters may not vote the same way as their leader. "There are some Democrat supporters who may not vote [No] like Mr Abhisit. This is a personal choice and no one can force others," Gen Prawit said.

He also warned people not to hold gatherings to express their collective opinion on the issue as they are at risk of violating the ban on political gatherings.

Political observers said the regime is unfazed by threats to vote down the draft charter as it believes some of those who vote against it may want the regime to continue to run the country.

Some may vote in support so that the general election can be held next year as planned, while others want a new constitution with provisional clauses to prepare for the transition period to full democracy.

While Mr Abhisit provided an argument as to why he will not accept the draft charter during a news briefing at his party's headquarters, no party members were seen by his side. He said he personally rejected the draft, and his opinion was not the party's resolution.

After the briefing, numerous party members differed over the issue. Several former constituency MPs told the Bangkok Post that at least 80% of people in provinces which are the support base of the parties, even in the lower North, are likely to vote in favour of the draft charter.

Public sentiment in these provinces are different from the Democrat leader's stance, party sources said. A Democrat source said while voters have disagreed with some aspects of the draft charter, they believe that the new constitution should pass the referendum and be enacted so the country can move forward.

They could not afford to allow the country to return to the political conflict that took place before the May 22, 2014 coup, said the source.

However, some Democrat members agreed with Mr Abhisit's stance and will vote against the draft charter. They praised Mr Abhisit's announcement even though it would not please all party members.

Another party source admitted that Mr Abhisit's "Vote No" stance has sparked fierce reactions on social media. Mr Abhisit's Facebook page has been awash with strong reactions from some hard-core fans who are disgruntled with his rejection.

They found it hard to stomach the fact that the Democrat leader shares the same stance as the Pheu Thai Party, their main political rival, which has boycotted the draft from the beginning.

"We understand our fan club, particularly the hard-core group, who are dissatisfied with the party leader. But no one in the party will argue with our fan club.

"We believe that when the Democrat leader's message is understood by the wider public, then more people will change their minds and vote in the same way as the party leader," Mr Abhisit's close associate said Thursday.

A former Demorat MP from the Central Region said that the number of Mr Abhisit's supporters who were upset with his stance on the draft charter declined from 70% on Wednesday to 40% Thursday after they studied Mr Abhisit's arguments.

Another Democrat Party source said former party leader Chuan Leekpai expressed support for Mr Abhisit's stance during his 78th birthday party Thursday.

Following Mr Abhisit's announcement on Wednesday, Mr Chuan also posted a message on the party's chat group on the Line application, asking all party members to respect Mr Abhisit's opinion on the matter, the source said.

The source added that Mr Chuan, who is a former prime minister, is likely to vote against the draft charter and that key Democrat figures may step forward to publicly announce their positions shortly before the referendum.

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