#Thailand: Thai draft charter ‘unlikely to resolve’ Thailand’s ‘deep-rooted’ political problems

| January 29, 2016 | 0 Comments

3273A060-90E1-4D44-9787-77B1AF551B59_cx0_cy6_cw0_mw1024_s_n_r1A leading human-rights group has urged the European Union to “strongly condemn” Thailand’s new draft constitution, saying it “violates international standards”.

The new constitution, or charter, aims to solve long-running problems such as the abuse of power by lawmakers but critics have called the draft “undemocratic”, saying it will “limit the powers” of a civilian-led government.

A previous draft was rejected in September by a now-defunct National Reform Council.

Publication of the new draft on Friday coincides with what promises to be a testing year for the Thai junta which has struggled to energize Thailand’s export-dependent economy and snuff out opposition to its rule.

The constitution must be ratified in a referendum which is expected in July. This will be one of the biggest hurdles for the junta, known as the National Council of Peace and Order, because if the draft does not pass, it would add to pressure at home and abroad for a quick return to elections.

The interim constitution does not say what will happen if the draft is voted down, leading to more uncertainty.

“I don’t know what is going to happen if the charter does not pass,” admitted Meechai Ruchupan, 77, chairman of the junta-appointed Constitution Drafting Committee.

However, it has since emerged that the controversial post-coup interim charter will remain in place if the new draft is voted down.

Thai politicians are worried harsh and strict provisions in the junta-imposed interim charter, as well as special powers under the controversial Article 44, will remain in effect for too long.

That would mean a further delay in the next general election which is currently expected to be held in the middle of next year.

On Friday, Ruchupan said a government roadmap for a mid-2017 election would be delayed by a “minimum of two to three months”.

His comments come after the Thai PM and junta leader, Prayut Chan-o-cha had indicated earlier this week that the election would take place in 2017 even if the draft constitution is rejected by the public.

Reaction to the new draft was swift, with Willy Fautre, director of Brussels-based international NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF), particularly scathing.

He said: “The Constitution Drafting Commission (CDC), who was directly appointed by the junta and is chaired by Meechai Ruchupan, is planning to ban any candidate from competing in parliamentary elections under the guise of fight against corruption but in reality to eliminate some candidates who might defeat their stooges.

“After the junta leaders set up the Assets Scrutiny Committee in 2006 to initiate criminal prosecution against political opponents, the purpose of the current constitutional proposal to bar them from running for public office under the pretext of corruption is to kill any serious threat in the bud and deprive them of the right to participate in Thai politics.”

This is an indirect reference to the main politicial opponent in Thailand,Yingluck Shinawatra, who is on trial for alleged corruption charges for an agricultural policy designed to help rice farmers. The trial is expected to last at least until end of 2016.

Fautre added: “The new constitution is meant to be a tool against any political opponent to the junta’s candidates and to undermine competitiveness in the next general election.HRWF denounces this denial of democracy and this violation of international standards, and urges the international community to strongly condemn it.”

Swedish Greens MEP Linnea Engstrom, who chairs the European Parliament’s fisheries committee, says the new draft will “do nothing” to restore stability in the country. She warned: “It’s unfortunate that the unstable conditions in Thailand prevail. The new constitution proposal has been criticised by human rights organisations mainly due to the fact that the military seems to be able to replace an elected government whenever it chooses to do so.”

Thailand currently is under continuous monitoring by the EU, with a ‘Yellow Card’ warning in force ‘indefinitely’ for failing to comply with international fishing regulations and “slave-like” conditions in the sector and Engstrom added, “The new charter will hardly improve the conditions in the fisheries industries.”

Further reaction came from Fraser Cameron, of the Brussels-based EU-Asia Centre, who said, “The new draft constitution is unlikely to resolve Thailand’s deep-rooted political problems. The army needs to set a date for new elections – the sooner the better – and stick to it.”

Human Rights Watch is also critical, pointing out that the junta has said that the new constitution should guarantee blanket amnesty for the use of military force to “protect national security.”

In its new World Report 2016, HRW said: “The military junta tightened its grip on power and severely repressed fundamental rights. Public pledges by the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to respect human rights and return the country to elected civilian rule went unfulfilled.

“Under military rule, Thailand’s human rights crisis has gone from bad to worse, and there seems to be no end in sight,” said Brad Adams, its Asia director. “The junta is jailing and prosecuting dissenters, barring public protests, censoring the media, and restricting critical political speech.”

“Respect for human rights in Thailand is going down the drain.The international community urgently needs to press the junta to reverse course, end repression, respect fundamental rights and fulfill its pledges to return to democratic civilian rule.”

Elsewhere, UK Socialist MEP David Martin said a “doctrine of deception” was at the heart of the constitution.

He said that Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha (a former army chief who led the 2014 coup) pledged that the new charter would be “central to restoring stability.”

“But while Prayuth and his cohorts appear concerned by the details of checks and balances, lawful procedure and the minutiae of liberty, the reality is pure realpolitik.”

Martin points out that the generals who run the country have made clear that while a new constitution is a pre-requisite for an election these will not take place until May 2017 “at the earliest.”

Ambika Ahuja, Southeast Asia analyst at  Eurasia Group, commented: “The army’s main goal is still to prolong its stay in power for as long as possible.”

Critics say the draft contains three key elements undermining the democratic will of the Thai people, and the exercise of their human rights under international covenants. These are plans for:

–          The 200 member House of Senators will be entirely unelected. Senators will be appointed, in a process as yet unclear, but have significant powers to screen and veto legislation already endorsed by the elected members of the House of Representatives, thereby controlling and monitoring the executive powers of government. Additionally, unelected Senators will appoint judges of the Constitutional and Supreme Courts.

–          Any candidate that has been charged with ‘corruption’ will be barred from becoming an elected member of the House of Representatives. This neatly excludes former Prime Ministers of the Pheu Thai party, Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra, who both face lifetime bans from participation in Thai politics by the military junta. The exclusion of the two strongest candidates opposing the military junta will therefore undermine democratic competition in any future elections.

–          Constitutional immunity for the military, their actions,  and any use of force. Military courts have judicial power to try and judge cases concerning civilian offences.

The new draft, running at 261 pages, is the 20th in Thailand since the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932.

The new constitution is supposed to be approved in a national referendum and experts have warned the economy faces “significant downside” if the draft is not ratified.But Prayuth is now saying that elections will take place “in 2017”, not “mid-2017 at the latest”  as he originally said, even if the draft is rejected in a national referendum.

Until it is ratified, the military government retains its substantial powers.

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Category: A Frontpage, EU, Thailand