Constitutional deja-vu

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The process of Thailand’s “Constitutional Anti-Reforms” trundles on like some ancient dinosaur. More jobs for the junta’s cronies, funded by more public money, is being wasted on yet another farcical constitutional drafting process. The last draft was an authoritarian abomination and the new “Meechai” version is little different [See http://bit.ly/1Jv5QDC and http://bit.ly/1ScVIR6 ].

The latest draft is more subtle than last year’s draft, reducing the nonsense about “Good” leaders and hiding the all-powerful “Committee to determine state strategy and enforcement of reconciliation” under a different hat.

Meechai

This latest “Meechai Draft” creates an even more powerful non-elected Constitutional Court that has the power to sack an elected government. This “Supra-Democratic” body, appointed by the conservatives and the military in the un-elected Senate, and made up of trusted reactionaries, will have the power also to veto government policy. The Senate will be fully appointed via a corrupt process of junta cronies electing senators from among themselves.

Any elected government in the future will have to abide by the “State Policies”, as outlined in the constitution, and the “National Strategy”. The life of the present junta will be extended after an elected government is installed by being a guiding force in determining the “National Strategy” according to conservative principles. Any government which spends “too much” on the poor or deviates in any way from the “National Strategy” will be open to censure by the Constitutional Court.

The junta’s various anti-reform committees will still carry on working after elections. The junta itself will be a guiding force in “Education Reform” after the election. The idea that military block-heads like Prayut should be in charge of education policy makes any sane person want to laugh and cry at the same time.

An un-elected Prime Minister who is not an MP will still be allowed, although you have to look carefully at various articles in the constitution to see this.

Top politicians from Taksin’s faction will be banned from politics. Senators must not be associated with present or recently retired politicians, but there is no obstacle to recently retired military officers filling the Senate.

Freedoms and civil rights will be allowed, so long as they are not a threat to “National Security” and governments must follow neo-liberal free-market policies in conjunction with the King’s Sufficiency Economy ideology.

The last draft was rejected by the junta’s own appointed assembly because they were fearful that it would be rightly condemned to the dustbin by the electorate. Starting the drafting process again was also a way of buying more time for the dictatorship to remain in power and also a way of trying to wear down citizens so that they just accept the same old rubbish, eventually, in order that the whole tedious process can be ended.

Fortunately, many pro-democracy leaders are already coming out to denounce this vile document. Redshirt leader Nattawut Saikua has described the effect of the constitution as “incarcerating any future elected government like a singing bird trapped in a gilded cage”.  Chaturon Chaisang, one of Thailand’s most principled mainstream politicians, has said people should prepare to oppose it.

Meanwhile the junta continues to abuse and repress pro-democracy activists. A student member of the New Democracy Movement (NDM) was abducted by soldiers in the middle of the night, driven blind-folded to a field, and kicked and threatened before being temporarily detained in a police station. He and other NDM students had been trying to expose military corruption and they have refused to stop protesting about the lack of democracy.

In response to questions about the treatment of these students, Generalissimo Prayut shouted to the press that university academics should teach their students to “obey the law” rather than teaching them about democracy and human rights. That is such hypocrisy coming from the soldier who staged an illegal military coup, tore up the constitution and previously murdered unarmed demonstrators in the streets. For scum like Prayut, “the law” is whatever he and his gang of thugs decrees it to be.

Prayut has also recently been mouthing-off about how gender equality will ruin Thai society.

That a democratic constitution could emerge from a junta headed by a man like Prayut is beyond the realms of the wildest fiction. As I have repeatedly posted on this site, any future elections held under a junta-sponsored constitution will merely be a “Burmese Model” of ersatz democracy, with real power in the hands of the military and the conservatives.

There should be no let-up in the demands for democracy and the rejection of the dictatorship. However, democratic change will not come about from worthy statements by foreign governments or by placing misguided hopes on symbolic gestures by brave but powerless individuals such as the NDM students.

We should also question “Constitutional Cretinism”, much favoured by intellectuals and commentators in Thailand. Constitutions do not create democracy. Democracy is built by powerful social movements which expand the space for human rights and citizen empowerment. Given the number of different and useless constitutions which clutter Thai history, one might be tempted to argue that having no constitution at all, creating a basic “custom and practice” for elections at all levels and forcing the elites to respect the wishes of the majority, would be a more effective step forward.

 

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