On the 7th of August 2016 Thailand was given its first chance to express themselves since the military coup in 2014.
The 55 million electorate were asked whether they wanted to accept the draft constitution proposed by the military and whether the senate should be allowed to join the lower house in selecting a prime minister.
The draft constitution proposed a voting system which would make it difficult for a single political party to gain a majority, leading to weak coalitions. The more controversial clause proposes a senate that is fully appointed by the military government – a change from the prior senate which had just over half of the upper seats directly elected and the other appointed. The changes would allow military appointed senators to have major influence when no party holds a majority in the lower house or National Assembly which is very likely considering the former proposal in which no single party is likely to gain a majority. To reaffirm this, another clause suggests that an unelected prime minister would be allowed to take power in an event of a political crisis.
With unofficial tallies recording 61% voting in favour of the draft constitution, many are left wondering why Thailand would vote to approve a charter that offers a mere semi-democracy; a charter that has been condemned by numerous human rights groups?
To explain this, many have called into question the legitimacy of the referendum. Turnout was at a dismal 55% and the electoral commission refused to accredit the vote which would have ensured no cheating had taken place. Moreover, very few people even saw a copy of the proposed constitution, and those who had seen it were unlikely to read all 279 articles.
There was also discontent with the repressive nature of the pro-draft constitution campaign. The referendum allowed for up to 10 years in prison for those found guilty of ‘rude’ or ‘false’ discussions about the constitution, leading to dozens of people being arrested. These restrictions however, did not apply to the pro-draft constitution campaign who freely talked about the positives of the new constitution and even broadcasted songs and TV programmes that portrayed it as a tool for stabilising the country and tackling corruption.
Alternatively, many of those who voted for the constitution did so with the promise that there would be elections held next year for the new government and others simply because they wanted to see the end of the political instability prominent since the 2014 military coup.
What has been particularly interesting in the results however, is the apparent divide between rich and poor, and North and South of Thailand. Those with money; Bangkok and the rest of the South voted for the new constitution en mass, whereas the poverty stricken Northeast overwhelmingly voted against the charter
Nonetheless, the people have spoken and the results are clear. Now, the Constitutional Drafting Committee is faced with that task of drawing up 10 ‘organic laws’ that will govern the new political system. Although no one is certain what these laws will be, the charter’s proposals have lead critics worried that the laws will force the present government to dissolve themselves and using the new electoral system, elect a fragmented government composed of numerous smaller parties. Many have suggested that with the likely occurrence of no single party majority, the newly appointed senate will have far more influence over the next prime minister which would allow General Prayuth – the orchestrator of the 2014 coup – to assume the role himself, or even a non-MP chosen by the senate.