Majority of Thai voters vote in favor of military-approved constitution

A majority of voters in Thailand approved a new draft constitution that was written by a committee appointed by the army. An unofficial tally showed over 61 percent in favor of the document.

When the military took power back in 2014, it rejected the old constitution. Those who support the new constitution claim it will bring stability to Thailand. However, it seems clear, as critics claim, that the aim of the constitution is to entrench military control in Thailand while providing a democratic veneer so that it will be more acceptable to some countries. The Thai Senate will consist of members who are all appointed by the military including six seats reserved for commanders. Voters also approved a second measure that says the Senate will be involved in selecting a prime minister. The target figure for turnout was 80 percent but only 55 percent participated.
From the very beginning, the process was rigged and undemocratic as campaigning against the constitution was banned and dozens of people were arrested for trying to do so. The largest parties in Thailand rejected the constitution. There were about 200,000 policy officers maintaining order. Independent observer groups had requested to be accredited to monitor the vote but were denied. As a result, one cannot even be sure as to how valid the official results are. The military is intending to hold an election by the end of 2017. The voting system is set up so as to likely produce a weak coalition government that can be dominated by the Senate and other unelected bodies controlled by the army. A BBC article calls the result a "guided democracy". It seems it is more a military government with a veneer of democracy.
Wayne Hay of Al Jazeera said that in a normal situation the result would be accepted given the turnout and the percentage win but the situation was not normal. As Hay points out: "In the lead-up to this referendum there were some very harsh laws put in place by the military government banning any public debates or criticism of the referendum or the constitution ... Indeed many people were arrested. So to a certain extent, for opposition figures, for critics of the military, there was something of a climate of fear leading up to this. So it certainly wasn’t a normal situation."To put the matter differently the situation was entirely against any democratic norms for holding a free and fair vote.
The constitution itself is undemocratic as well in that future governments will have to rule on the military's terms rather than the military being subject to civilian rule. Nevertheless, the ruling military-backed Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) described the referendum as a major step on the way to a "fully functioning democracy." Punishment for criticism of the draft constitution was punishable by up to ten years in jail. Political rallies were banned ahead of the referendum.
Even though, prime minister and army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha claimed that Thailand was a democracy and all should come out and vote he had banned debate about the constitution and arrested people campaigning against it. Significantly it was the impoverished rural northeast of Thailand who had voted strongly for a government turfed out by the army, which was one region that voted against the constitution.
Thitinan Pongsudhirak, an associate professor of political science at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok said the passing of the constitution reinforced a trend not just in Thailand but globally in which people are disillusioned with politicians, money, politics, and corruption. He said :“The military has been astute to capitalise and exploit this popular will against the political class. They’ve had effective propaganda in demonising politicians as being corrupt and corruption being the root of Thailand’s problems. Before [the NCPO] had no popular mandate – they took power by force, and since then they’ve been running on empty. This time, they will claim some legitimacy and go full steam ahead. The danger now is that they will be overconfident.”
They may claim some legitimacy which they could use to clamp down further on opposition. The Thai people may end up replacing corrupt politicians that they could at least vote out with corrupt military rulers who suppress any opposition and cannot be removed by votes.


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