Thailand adopts a supervised democracy constitution

RUNGROJ YONGRIT

A Thai soldier casts his vote at a polling station outside an army barrack in Bangkok, Thailand, 07 August 2016. Some 50.6 million Thai voters are eligible to cast their votes in a referendum for the controversial military backed draft constitution, the first polling in the country after the May 2014 military coup.

62% of the 55% that did go to the polls approved the new constitution drafted by the military junta


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Thailand has a new constitution that allows the army to fire and hire the Prime Minister of its own choice. The new constitution was approved in a referendum on Sunday.

Little over half of Thailand’s 50 million eligible voters went to the polls on Sunday to approve or {theoretically} disapprove of a constitution drafted by the army instituting a form of “supervised democracy.”

Approximately 62% of Thai voters approved a new junta-backed constitution; 38% said no. Why half the eligible voters opted to abstain is an open question.

This would be Thailand’s 20th constitution in less than a century, not all of whom have been approved by a referendum.  In Thailand the army holds for itself the role of an “enlightened guardian” of Thai law and order, with 13 military coups and 11 more attempted takeovers since 1932.

There are some hints on why nearly half of the electorate were somewhat uninterested in the process.

Although no irregularities were reported in the voting process itself, the “no” camp was not given the chance to openly and publically make its case. There were no rallies, no open discussions, no media debates; if one criticized the constitution he or she faced 10 years in prison.

In this context, a 38% for “no” was a rather strong act of defiance.

In any event, with 91% of the ballots counted, the regime of Prime Minister and retired general Prayuth Chan-ocha confirmed it enjoys a degree of popularity.

Coming to power in 2014 the regime has traded political pluralism and individual freedoms for stability, a traditional claim to legitimacy for military administrations worldwide. The constitution promises to limit scope for corruption and civil strife by institutionalizing a form of supervised democracy, in which generals maintain their role of civic “guardians.”

“Supervision” will take place by a army-appointed 250-member Senate that will appoint the Prime Minister. Asked whether they approve of such a body, only 58% of Thai voters said “yes.”

The military regime has promised elections in 2017. The army prefers the supervision of democracy rather than direct responsibility. Since coming to power, the economy is in poor share and the military is clearly not popular in the ballot.

Elections have been traditionally won by parties linked to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, that has fled the country in 2008 and was convicted by a court in absentia. His sister was voted in office in 2008, to be ousted by the army in January 2015.

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