Regime keeps lid on charter unrest

Regime keeps lid on charter unrest

Analysis: Pressure will rise as 'no' campaign gathers steam

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) are firmly in control, but the outlook is hazy as pressure now begins to build over the glum constitutional outlook. (Photo by Thanarak Khunton)
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and his National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) are firmly in control, but the outlook is hazy as pressure now begins to build over the glum constitutional outlook. (Photo by Thanarak Khunton)

The National Council for Peace and Order appears in control of the unfolding political situation over the charter drafting business although the momentum could shift away from it if the draft is shot down in the referendum, says a political scientist. 

The second draft charter since the May 22, 2014 coup made its debut on Friday amid a chorus of indignation from politicians, which could bode ill for the charter's fate in the referendum tentatively planned for July.

However, the NCPO and the Constitution Drafting Committee have managed to keep the political situation relatively placid so far despite fears from some quarters the resistance against the draft charter could intensify, says political scientist Wanwichit Boonprong, of Rangsit University.

Members of the Pheu Thai Party and the Democrat Party have aired gripes about the draft charter, calling it undemocratic and a witch-hunt aimed at politicians.

They aired their views in media interviews, which are the politicians' preferred outlets to make themselves heard at a time when political activities are banned. They feel the media provides an unhindered stage for political expression.

At the same time, many politicians have refused to join state-sponsored forums to debate the draft charter contents, fearing participation would be a sign of their acceptance of the military government which goes against their anti-coup stance.

Parties do not welcome the draft charter as they insist it seeks to curb the powers they used to enjoy, such as closer scrutiny of the way MPs disburse the state budget and punishment to which the MPs are liable for "opaque"  budget spending. 

Mr Wanwichit said rival political parties could unite in their opposition to the draft charter, forming a force that might intensify political undercurrents for the NCPO. The politicians will resort to sympathy-arousing appeals to their anti-draft charter cause.

People could be told their favourite former MPs are being bullied by provisions in the charter which will cripple their ability to serve the local interest while giving a political edge to inexperienced politicians with little understanding of the needs of people on the ground.

Mr Wanwichit said the CDC is prepared to counter the anti-charter criticism. CDC chairman Meechai Ruchupan and the CDC spokesman team, who are mostly legal experts, have answers ready to clarify inquiries regarding the charter content. 

They have managed to counter arguments raised by critics and politicians although they have not always succeeded in explaining some complex legal substances in the draft charter. One potential drawback is that if the CDC fails to adequately explain the controversial issues in the draft, it could ratchet up public displeasure.

Members of the National Legislative Assembly and the National Reform Steering Assembly may choose to capitalise on the prevailing sentiment and speak out to reflect people's resistance to the draft, a move that would build up pressure on the draft charter and spell its doom in the referendum. 

So far, the NCPO has risen above the charter-related criticism because it has no role in the drafting process. If the draft is rejected in the referendum, the council would enjoy an extended stay in power while a new charter is being sought. 

But such a rejection would put the NCPO on the spot. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who also heads the council, will need to decide on the options available, such as drafting a new draft charter with one or more of the abrogated constitutions adopted as a model.

That said, Gen Prayut will confront a critical question of whether he has the legitimacy to resurrect dead charters and cherry-pick points to be incorporated in the new draft at will. That could increase public opposition to the NCPO and undermine its ability to maintain political stability. "This is a complicated political game," he said. 

Kamnoon Sitthisaman, a former senator and member of the dissolved CDC led by Borwornsak Uwanno, said people appear to be left with few choices. If they want "certainty", they will be compelled to vote for the draft charter as a way to ensure a general election is held in the latter half of next year under the NCPO's roadmap.

It will be interesting to see how the draft charter opponents vote. Voting against the draft may delay the general election they seek even longer.

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