All eyes on charter vote 'tipping point'

All eyes on charter vote 'tipping point'

Regime urged to play referee role

The ballot box and the strongman: Coup leader and now Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha has brought the country to 77 days before the regime has scheduled a referendum on its constitution.
The ballot box and the strongman: Coup leader and now Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha has brought the country to 77 days before the regime has scheduled a referendum on its constitution.

As the country marks Sunday's second anniversary of the coup that brought the military to power, the clock is ticking towards a crucial test of the regime's support.

All eyes are on the charter referendum scheduled to take place on Aug 7, which will be decisive in determining whether the regime can fulfil its promised roadmap to democracy and set a date for a general election. It could also determine how much power will be handed back to the people following the election next year.

Critics say the vote is shaping up as a crucial test of the regime's support, but those aligned with the National Council for Peace and Order are keen to keep the focus confined to the content of the draft constitution.

While the NCPO fully backs the constitution written by the Constitution Drafting Committee, headed by Meechai Ruchupan, political observers say the regime's stance on those who are campaigning against it could produce negative consequences depending on the referendum result.

This article concludes the week-long review of the high and low points of the past two years under the military regime. Here are links to the previous articles.

The NCPO has detained several anti-coup group members and critics of the draft. The Referendum Act restricts freedom of expression about the draft charter in the lead-up to the vote.

"To ensure the referendum will not go to waste and people's decisions are not governed by emotions, the government needs to be patient and take on a referee's role," said Chartchai Na Chiangmai, a CDC member.

"They [NCPO] must not play a role as a conflicting party [with draft charter opponents] as it currently is."

His view is echoed by Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva who has raised concerns that if the referendum process is not free and fair, the outcome cannot be good.

"The NCPO should let the process proceed without controlling it. Even if the charter is rejected, the NCPO still has the full authority to pick any charter version it likes to be enforced," he said.

Mr Abhisit's other concern is that the focus could be shifting away from the content of the draft. Instead, it was being perceived that if people do not vote for the draft they are rejecting the regime.

"This is as much as the Democrat Party can say. The party doesn't want to get involved in a situation where people get to choose between the military or the red shirts. The referendum isn't about that. It has to be focused on the content," he said.

Mr Abhisit said the red shirts are trying to make the referendum a battle between them and the regime by saying the military must take responsibility if the draft is shot down.

"This situation is making voters who disagree with the content of the charter draft hesitate. They don't want their vote to be used as a political tool. And the regime is making that situation more apparent," he said.

United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship leader Jatuporn Prompan has warned the regime's ongoing attempts to get the charter to sail through the referendum could be costly, and the crackdown on critics will backfire.

"If the Aug 7 referendum proceeds, the regime will suffer a huge defeat. And, if so, it's highly likely they will do something to scrap future referendums," he said.

However, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha rejected Mr Jatuporn's comments.

"Why would we have to do that?" he said. "I don't see any problem with this draft charter. It is similar to previous ones apart from the sections about penalties against politicians."

Pheu Thai veteran Chaturon Chaisaeng said the draft charter's passing appears probable given the effort the regime is making to convince voters.

He said the regime has the resources to sway voters' decisions, noting that a campaign is under way to use village heads and tambon chiefs to explain why the charter draft needs to pass. A fund of 200,000 baht is earmarked for each village, he claimed.

"Pheu Thai's standpoint is against the draft charter, but we are limited in being able to get our words out to the voters. The party can't say for sure the regime will be defeated," he said.

Suriyasai Katasila, deputy dean of Rangsit University's College of Social Innovation, said there are positive signs that the regime will win wide support for the charter.

He cited the cabinet's recent decision to stop renewing and issuing licences for gold exploration and gold mining as an example of popular support, as the decision was welcomed by environmental activists and residents.

Mr Suriyasai said if the regime has the courage to pursue what is in the best interests of the public, it is highly likely the people will be supportive.

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