A general election will definitely be held in July next year even though the draft constitution is voted down in a referendum, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said on Tuesday.
A constitution he has prepared will be used, he added without elaborating which one. "Don't worry about it. I'll make it happen no matter what."
The prime minister declined to confirm whether the 2014 interim charter would be amended or an entirely new one he had in mind will be used.
“If the draft constitution is voted down and after the election, some groups won’t accept the results, you solve the problems yourselves. I definitely won’t shoot fellow Thais.”
Asked what will happen if the draft constitution is rejected, Gen Prayut said: “That’s my business. I won’t say now. Why did you ask as if you don’t want it to pass? Don’t you know the country needs reform? Or do you want it to be the same as it was?”
Asked when he is ready to reveal it, the PM said: “I’ll tell you after the draft charter is voted down. It won’t pass if I reveal now.”
The prime minister said he wanted the draft constitution to be endorsed. “What’s so bad about it? Don’t you want it to pass? Are you reporters going to run the country?”
With a referendum on the draft constitution just a few months away, public concern is mounting about the consequences of a “no” vote, with both charter writers and junta members refusing to rule out the indefinite use of the military's interim charter.
And with PM Prayut insisting on Tuesday that an election would be held next year regardless of the referendum outcome, confusion is growing.
Meechai Ruchuphan, chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee (CDC), started the ball rolling on Tuesday when asked by reporters what would happen if the draft was voted down.
"If the draft is not endorsed in a referendum, we'll be stuck with the 2014 interim charter," he said.
His comment created headlines in many Thai papers, which took it to mean the 2014 charter promulgated after the coup and giving the junta chief sweeping power under Section 44, would be used permanently.
Law academics, however, noted it was impossible to use the interim charter in its current form for the long haul as it doesn't contain provisions on several key elements such as elections.
Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said on Tuesday Mr Meechai might be joking.
"However, it's not impossible if the interim charter is amended. But what's the point if we have to change or add more than 120 sections? It's tantamount to drafting a new one," he said.
When a constitution is used as the framework, it doesn't mean all of its content will be copied verbatim, Mr Wissanu explained.
He confirmed academics' views that the interim charter could not be used permanently because it doesn't have sections on elections or even the requirement of policy statements after a government sworn in.
Mr Meechai also said on Monday there was no need to spell out what would happen when the draft was voted down. He reasoned voters won't read its content and judge it for its merits if an alternative is laid on the table.
Agreeing with Mr Meechai, Mr Wissanu said preparing the alternative in advance was like willing the draft to fail.
"But the junta and the government will have to think how to deal with such scenario," he said.
"In any case, we have to have an answer to people what would happen in the ‘no’ scenario. The answer may come in the form of amendments to the interim charter. But if there's no change to it, rest assured we'll find a way, only we can't say it now."
Mr Wissanu urged all sides not to comment on this issue for now and promised the junta and the government would come up with the best solution.
CDC spokesman Amorn Vanichvivat said on Tuesday if the draft was voted down, it was possible the junta's charter would be used. “The problem is nobody knows what it looks like. So what's wrong with the draft laid on the table here?"
The first version of the draft constitution will be unveiled on Friday. Among the elements criticised as "undemocratic" in it are accomodation of an outsider prime minister, composition of the senate, unchecked powers of independent bodies and difficulties in amending it.
The referendum on the draft charter, the second in Thai history, is expected to be held in the middle of this year.
When it was held for the first time in 2007 for the 2007 charter, the powers-that-be also did not make it clear what people would get if they voted no, only saying the then coupmakers would pick any of the previous constitutions as they saw fit.
The draft was endorsed in August, with 57.81% of all 25 million cast votes out of 45.89 million eligible voters.
Critics said then it was not a free referendum because martial law still applied in several areas at the time. Supporters and opponents of it did not get equal chances to air their views and freedom of expressions were curbed.
Most importantly, they said voters had no real choice as they did not know what they would get if they turned it down.