Thailand’s constitutional dispossession

7 June 2017

On 6 April 2017, Thailand’s 20th constitution came into force, replacing a temporary constitution that was handed down in the wake of the country’s most recent coup almost three years earlier. The promulgation of the new constitution gleamed with the possibility of a transition away from military authoritarianism and a new pact between the rulers and the ruled. But this new pact is one that at best may fail to protect citizens from the rulers’ excesses and at worst may facilitate the dispossession of their rights.

The Constitutional Drafting Committee (CDC), handpicked by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), quietly released the draft of the constitution to the public in late January 2016 with a referendum set for 7 August 2016. Unlike earlier draft constitutions, very few paper copies were distributed to citizens — anyone interested had to go out of their way to procure a copy. Difficulty of access was compounded by a ban under the Referendum Act on any public events or dissemination of information about the draft by anyone other than the CDC or NCPO. Violation was punishable by imprisonment of up to 10 years, a fine of up to 200,000 baht (about US$5800) and loss of the right to vote for 10 years.

Despite the threat of punishment, some decided that an ill-informed populace posed a greater risk than their own possible loss of liberty. At least 212 were arrested and charged in the lead-up to the referendum. They are all being prosecuted for their actions and if convicted face sentences comparable to committing violent assault.

Examination of the draft constitution — which was a lengthy 279 articles — illustrates why those concerned with human rights, democracy or the separation of powers were alarmed. Despite reference to upholding rights and liberties (Section 25), the draft constitution also provided for an appointed upper house (Section 269), stipulated the monitoring of the ‘morals’ of members of the lower house (Section 219) and left the significant corpus of executive orders of the NCPO in place (Sections 265 and 279). After six months of heavily restricted public discussion, the referendum was passed with a 61 per cent majority. Only 59 per cent of the electorate voted.

To read the entire article by Tyrell Haberkorn, visit the EAF website.

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