Giles Ji Ungpakorn
All the opposition politicians and pro-democracy academics are united in the belief that the military constitution needs to be amended or scrapped in order for Thailand to have a fully functioning democracy. They are absolutely right about this. But what is totally lacking is a realistic strategy of how to achieve this.
It is worth recapping why the present constitution is so bad.
The military constitution was drawn up by gangsters in uniform, who murdered pro-democracy demonstrators and used violence to stage military coups and pervert the democratic process. It was “approved” in a referendum where people campaigning to oppose the constitution were arrested.
The general tone of the constitution is patronising and banal, with constant references to the monarchy. It talks about the “duties of citizens to be loyal to King and Country and to maintain discipline”. Duty and discipline take priority over the rights of citizens. There are pages of rubbish about the qualities of “good” political leaders and naturally they must be loyal to “Nation, Religion and King”. It is also a neo-liberal constitution, like all the various constitutions since the 1996 economic crisis. So it talks of public health being organised according to a “fair” market economy, the need to maintain “fiscal discipline” and the importance of following the previous king’s reactionary “Sufficiency Economy” ideology. Free State education is not guaranteed up to the end of secondary school. As usual, this is all aimed against redistribution of wealth and state spending which benefits the poor. Naturally, military and Palace spending are not a threat to fiscal discipline. The army has just started a spending spree on US armoured vehicles and other weapons which may be used against the civilian population.
The constitution outlaws what the reactionaries like to call “populist policies”. This is aimed directly at Taksin-style measures which were hugely popular among the electorate. Such policies need to be outlawed by “wise men” because the majority of the population are “too stupid” to know what is good for them.
People like Taksin and some other Pua Thai politicians are barred from office for “legal” reasons, much like the gerrymandered electoral system in Singapore or Burma which bars opposition politicians for dubious legal reasons. However, state murderers like Generalissimo Prayut and Abhisit Vejjajiva, are not be banned from office. The constitution white-washes all the crimes of the present junta.
The Prime Minister need not be an elected MP, if supported by 2/3 of parliament. This is why unelected Prayut is still Prime Minister with votes from the senators whom he appointed.
The all-powerful senate has been appointed by the military and the elites. The senate has extensive powers to appoint the Electoral Commission, the Anti-Corruption Commission and the Constitutional Judges. In the past these bodies exercised power over the democratically elected Yingluk government and paved the way for a military coup. The senate will also appoint the useless Human Rights Commission, no doubt ensuring that there are plenty of military and police officers on board. However, parliament will have reduced powers. The senate can also veto government policy.
The National Strategy Committee is in effect a “Super Junta”, with powers to veto any decisions made by an elected government and to take power at any time via a “legalised coup”, if and when it deems fit. Naturally the Super Junta is dominated by the military top brass. This Super Junta is enshrined in stone for 5 years, but its length of duty can be extended at will.
The constitution can never be amended to make Thailand into a republic or to allow self-determination in Patani. Any other amendments which have been sanctioned by a parliamentary vote, must be approved by the Senate and the Constitutional Court.
It is therefore obvious that any changes to the constitution or any attempts to scrap it altogether and draw up a new one, cannot be achieved by working within the rules or using parliamentary manoeuvres. Yet none of the opposition politicians and pro-democracy academics are engaged in building a new pro-democracy social movement outside parliament.