Senior #Thailand expert assures referendum will be ‘fair’

| August 5, 2016 | 0 Comments

thailand_protest.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterboxA senior figure in the Thai government has moved to allay fears that this weekend’s much-awaited referendum in the country will be rigged, writes Martin Banks.

Norachit Sinhaseni said he sought to reassure the international community that the referendum will be “fair”.  The poll is on the draft constitution which was drawn up by the ruling junta which seized power over two years ago.  Sinhaseni is the spokesperson of the Constitution Drafting Committee, the junta appointed body that drafted the charter that goes to public vote on Sunday (7 August).

He said that despite a last minute petition being submitted which threatened to delay proceedings, the referendum would still go ahead as planned on Sunday and elections were pencilled in for July or August next year.  Despite widespread criticism of the draft, he sought to defend the draft constitution  by saying it had been subject to public consultation involving 500 NGOs, civil society and other organizations.

He said that Thai citizens would be asked a simple Yes/No question on whether  or not to accept the draft being proposed.  “If it is rejected then my work is done and the government will have to come up with a new constitution,” he said.  For some, the outcome of Thailand’s second-ever referendum on its second consecutive military-inspired constitution in 10 years should be a foregone conclusion.

If approved, as is widely expected, many say it would entrench the army’s power and further delay a return to civilian rule. In May 2014, Thailand witnessed its twelfth successful military coup since it became a constitutional monarchy in 1932.

Army chief Prayuth Chan-o-cha was installed as Prime Minister, toppling the elected but controversial government of Yingluck Shinawatra and abolishing the existing constitution. Prayuth, who referred to the coup as a peacekeeping effort aimed at ending political unrest, has said that democracy can only be restored once there is political stability, adding that the country would hold general elections once a new constitution was in place. The latter goal was tasked to the Constitution Drafting Commission (CDC), which Prayuth set up following the coup.

The referendum’s outcome is also directly tied to just how open elections will be in 2017.  Whether or not citizens support the new charter, Prayuth has said he will go ahead with general elections by late 2017. If the ‘no’ vote prevails on Sunday, the CDC will simply go back to work on another draft and in that scenario, the junta will be able install any kind of charter without the need for a public referendum.

But Fraser Cameron, of the EU/Asia Centre cautioned that it would be wrong for the EU to think that by setting a referendum date and supposed elections for 2017 Thailand was now on the right track.

He said: “The draft falls short of what is required to ensure true democracy.There is no doubt that democracy in Thailand is under attack. The international community, foremost the EU, US and other ASEAN countries, must press the junta to reverse course. The prospects for elections in 2017 look like slipping which would be very regrettable. The junta must realise that the country’s economic development will depend on restoration of constitutional rights for all Thais.”

Further concern was expressed by Willy Fautre, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF), who, referring to the revision of the constitution, said: “A democratic regime would be in a better position than a military regime to make it a success corresponding to the expectations of the majority of the people.”

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Category: A Frontpage, Thailand, World